At noon on January 17, 48-year-old Nasrin Hassan accompanied her husband, Mohammed Monir Hassan, to his scheduled check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan. The 56-year-old undocumented cab driver and father of two from Woodside, Queens, who has one DUI on his record from 2006, had been reporting regularly to ICE for six years without incident. But by 5 p.m., after hours of waiting, Nasrin was worried. She inquired with an ICE employee and learned that her husband had been detained in anticipation of deportation to their native Bangladesh — days before he was scheduled for a doctor appointment to discuss his recent thyroid cancer diagnosis.
Hassan’s immigration attorney, Larry Spivak, immediately filed a parole request with the New York City ICE field office, detailing his client’s numerous health conditions: Hassan is also diabetic, and suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure and cholesterol. “Mr. Hassan has a host of medical problems that require regular monitoring,” Spivak wrote to ICE. “The need for treatment justifies his release.”
A scan of the letter Spivak supplied to the Voice shows ICE’s stamp of receipt, yet Spivak says he has received no response. He filed a second parole request on January 30, this time including a letter from Hassan’s oncologist, a detailed list of his medications, and articles detailing the lack of adequate treatment for thyroid cancer in Bangladesh. (In New York State, the healthcare safety net extends to undocumented residents.)
“My feeling is that because of the Trump administration, ICE feels that they don’t have to [heed] me,” Spivak says. “In previous years this was at least considered. Now, silence.”
Meanwhile, Hassan has been bounced from a detention center in Tennessee, to ones in Texas, Hawaii, and New Jersey, then back to Texas, while Spivak fights in federal court for his release and pursues a separate petition for asylum with the Immigration Board of Appeals. On February 12, Spivak says, ICE even placed Hassan on a flight to Bangladesh ninety minutes before a federal judge in West Texas granted a stay of removal. The ruling was finalized while Hassan waited on layover in Honolulu. ICE then flew Hassan back to detention in New Jersey. ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow confirmed the stay of removal, and added that Hassan “will remain in ICE custody while the petition is under review.”
Now, Hassan’s family is hoping that he will benefit from the precedent set in January when United States District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled that immigrant advocate Ravi Ragbir be immediately released from immigration detention in New Jersey. In her ruling, Forrest condemned ICE’s “unnecessary cruelty” in detaining Ragbir without notice at a tumultuous check-in at ICE’s New York City field office in January. She argued that “there is, and ought to be in this great country, the freedom to say goodbye.”
Spivak’s petition for Hassan’s release is scheduled for a hearing in Texas on March 13. Meanwhile he’s continued to miss scheduled doctor’s appointments, according to his 26-year-old daughter, Naziat. Hassan has told his family he’s receiving “bare minimum” medical care in detention, reports Naziat. Meanwhile, ICE “never returns my calls,” she tells the Voice. “I’ve written letters to them [and] contacted them through their website and received nothing.”
ICE did not respond to a Voice request for comment on what medical attention Hassan is receiving in detention.
“I just want the politicians and the federal government to know that they can’t just pick someone up, especially someone who has been cooperating for years with ICE,” Naziat says. “They can’t just pick him up one time and detain him. This is absurd.”
Hassan arrived in the United States from Bangladesh in 1992. His wife followed two years later with Naziat, a toddler at the time. Their son, Mamun, was born in 1995 while Hassan worked as a taxi driver. “He loved interacting with people,” Naziat recalls. “He made his own schedule, so he loved doing the job.”
Both Hassan and Nasrin overstayed their visas, and, fearing for his safety back home, Hassan applied for asylum in 1997. That application was denied (it would have covered Nasrin as a dependent), prompting the Immigration and Naturalization Service to immediately refer him to Immigration Court for removal proceedings. Hassan continued to appeal his case while saving for his children’s college tuition and serving as vice president of Greater Gulshan Association of USA, a local nonprofit, named for a neighborhood in Dhaka, that hosts picnics and raises money for Bangladeshis in need, both in the US and in Bangladesh.
In December 2006 Hassan was arrested in Queens while driving his taxi under the influence. (No one was injured, according to his family.) Spivak believes it’s this criminal conviction that prompted ICE to detain Hassan in January. Though a single DUI did not make someone a priority for deportation under President Obama, who announced guidelines in 2014 prioritizing convicted felons, President Trump’s Department of Homeland Security memoranda widened the dragnet.
“ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” spokeswoman Yong Yow said in a statement to the Voice.
ICE detained 108,077 noncitizens during interior enforcement actions between January and September of last year, a 42 percent increase over the same period in 2016. And while ICE has standards for healthcare for detainees — including mandatory continuing medical care — New York Lawyers for the Public Interest documented in a 2017 report how these standards often are not met in New York and New Jersey detention centers.
“We definitely saw regular instances of people who were receiving care for chronic conditions like diabetes, where care was stopped or insufficiently addressed in detention, leading to serious problems,” says Laura Redman, director of the Health Justice Program at NYLPI. “In the year since then, we’ve seen that those deficiencies are continuing, and in fact things are getting worse as more and more people are being detained.”
Hassan’s family had hoped to visit him at the Hudson Correctional Facility in New Jersey this month, but learned on February 23 that he’d been transferred back to Texas to await his next hearing. “He sounds very desperate,” Naziat says. “He keeps telling us to get him out of there. He wants to be with his family. He wants to see myself and my brother grow and become mature and independent adults.”
Naziat, a mental health counselor, is also undocumented, though she is tenuously protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Her mother, who has no criminal record, is next scheduled to check in with ICE in July. Spivak is seeking asylum for her as well.
Facing numerous unknowns, Naziat says that her short-term goal is singular: “We just want to say goodbye to our father. We understand the circumstances. We’re willing to cooperate. But we’re just asking for some time. Even a day would make a difference.”
* Correction: February 27, 2018
A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Mohammed Monir Hassan was arrested for a DUI in 1996. His arrest was actually in 2006. This article has been updated to reflect that.