Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rikers 'alien' probes on ICE (New York Post)

Rikers 'alien' probes on ICE
Last Updated: 7:14 AM, May 22, 2011

Federal immigration cops claim they've lost their best weapon to boot foreign-born criminals.

But civil-rights advocates say the city is finally following the law.

The result is that thousands of New York jailbirds can now duck deportation after their release by just saying no when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents seek to grill them at Rikers Island, The Post has learned.

The interrogations -- to determine if a criminal defendant arrived in the United States illegally -- are needed to open investigations, which allow federal agents to track inmates, detain them and begin deportation hearings once they've completed their sentences.

"If we don't get to interview them at Rikers, that's it -- they're in the wind," said one ICE agent.

In the past, correction officers would retrieve prisoners from their cells for an ICE interview, agents and guards said. Just about anyone not born in the United States would be grilled.

But 18 months ago, the Department of Correction, stung by a $145,000 settlement the city paid Rikers prisoner Cecil Harvey in 2009 after ICE improperly deported him, changed its protocol.

It began making sure suspects understood they had the right to decline the interview, and that they signed consent forms.

Civil-rights advocates say the city is finally following the law.

But the result is that about 70 percent of foreign-born defendants now refuse to be interviewed, say ICE agents.

Agents previously detained approximately 3,200 Rikers prisoners a year. Now it's 1,000.

"Now that DOC is actually doing their jobs and the department is in compliance, it's a hindrance to ICE -- their guys aren't getting half the interviews they need," said one corrections supervisor.

Said a DOC spokesperson: "The Department of Correction is sensitive to ensuring that all inmates in its custody are advised of their rights with respect to ICE interviews."

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