Wednesday marked the start of the “surge docket,” expedited immigration hearings for unaccompanied minors from Central America caught crossing the Southern border since October of last year. The courtroom looked a little different on Friday: instead of children who crossed the border alone, undocumented mothers accused of entering the country illegally with their children appeared before a judge at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan.
One of those mothers was Dariela “Luz” Bueso, who appeared before Judge James Loprest without an attorney. Loprest directed Bueso to a four page list of pro bono lawyers, and set a hearing for mid-November so she could have a few months to find someone to help represent her. Did she have any other questions, he asked? Just one: through a court-appointed interpreter, Bueso asked the judge if she could have the uncomfortable device wrapped tightly around her ankle removed.
At first he was confused, then visibly surprised that she had been fitted with an ankle monitor in the first place. According to advocates assisting with the surge docket though, all of the mothers who appeared before the judge on Friday had been fitted with ankle bracelets by Immigration and Customs Enforcement shortly after they arrived in New York. They are also being asked to report to an ICE office on a weekly basis, and be available for home visits.
Judge Loprest dispatched a volunteer lawyer to an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement office located in the same building a few floors below the court to see if it was possible to have the bracelet removed. If the officers down there had any questions, he said, they could come up and speak to him.
Bueso says she got her ankle monitor at a building across the street from Federal Plaza on June 8. The entire ordeal was “circus-like”–it took about four hours, and including 15 minutes set aside to view an informational video about the ankle bracelet.
Katherine Doscher, an immigration attorney and one of the many volunteers who are helping represent immigrants in the surge docket, was the volunteer who escorted Bueso to the ICE office. But despite having a judge’s orders, she wasn’t hopeful about her chances of having the device removed. She had already tried to have another client’s ankle bracelet taken off–a mother with painful varicose veins–and ICE refused. “She has veins popping out of her legs, and they were nice about it, but not nice enough to [take the bracelet off].” They told her to come back with a doctor’s note.
Through an interpreter, Bueso told the Voice the GPS monitor was heavy and hot, and hurting her ankle. She pointed to marks she says the device left on her skin. ICE refused to remove Bueso’s bracelet too. An officer in charge told Doscher the decision wouldn’t fall under Judge Loprest’s purview, but another judge’s; that judge declined to get involved.
According to a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the ankle monitors are part of a program called Alternatives to Detention or ATD. “ATD is a flight-mitigation tool that uses technology and case management to increase compliance with release conditions and facilitate compliance with court appearances and final orders of removal while allowing participants to remain in their community as they move through immigration proceedings.”
That spokesman couldn’t say how many mothers associated with the surge docket had been fitted with ankle monitors in New York, but he did say that as of July 9, 2014, there were 7,440 “participants” wearing GPS monitoring devices nationwide.