ICE Targeting Sex Workers for Deportation: Village Voice Report

The Homeland Security Department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, better known as ICE, is targeting sex workers for deportation in New York City, using a special court system known as “intervention court,” designed to protect actual victims of sex trafficking, according to an investigative report published in New York’s Village Voice newspaper this week.

The “Human Trafficking Intervention” court system was initiated in 2013 by New York State to “promote a just and compassionate resolution to cases involving those charged with prostitution—treating these defendants as trafficking victims, likely to be in dire need of medical treatment and other critical services.” Rather than prosecute sex workers who end up in the system, the courts were created to provide “a way out,” according to Judge Judy Harris Kluger, who was in charge of putting the system into place.

But according to Voice writer Melissa Gira Grant, “ICE has signaled that it will use the trafficking courts as a way to stalk immigrants.” In one widely publicized case earlier this year, Grant reports, ICE agents showed up in plainclothes attire at an intervention court in Queens, New York, planning to arrest a 29-year-old Chinese immigrant—who was saved from the agents when the judge informed Legal Aid attorneys that ICE was there. By arranging for the woman to be taken into custody, her lawyers prevented the ICE agents from grabbing her, Grant reported.

“ICE wields terrifying power in these courts: Agents will try to take people away from the defense attorneys standing at their sides, and without a warrant,” Grant wrote. “People can then disappear into the immigration detention system, where they are not currently guaranteed the same rights to legal representation.”

But how do the women, the majority of them foreign nationals, end up in the trafficking courts, where ICE can target them, in the first place? The answer, says Gira, stems from the fact that the “new approach” to handling trafficking victims in the court system “has not been accompanied by a new approach to policing. Since 2013, some prostitution arrests have gone up, and dramatically in Asian immigrant communities.”

The woman who was nearly arrested earlier this year in Queens faced a charge of giving massage without a license, a common cause of arrest among Asian immigrants. A full 91 percent of women arrested for unlicensed massage who end up as Legal Aid clients are not United States citizens.

The standard police practice of frequent arrests—a rate of about three per day for sex-work related offenses, according to New York State data cited by Grant—has increased the danger to immigrants of deportation by ICE agents lurking in the trafficking intervention courts.

“Without the NYPD’s prostitution arrests, the trafficking courts would be empty; there would be no defendants in the courts for ICE to so easily target,” she wrote in the Voice article.

Photo via File Photo / Wikimedia Commons — Public Domain 

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