CHICAGO (July 14, 2022) - The U.S. immigration system routinely detains and deports immigrants based on their prior contact with the U.S. criminal legal system, depriving them of freedom and livelihood on the basis of a single document: a police report. In a new policy brief, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) details how overreliance on police reports in the U.S. immigration system egregiously prejudices immigrants facing detention and deportation.
“Police reports represent a biased, one-sided look at immigrants’ history in the United States. Immigration decision makers give these prejudicial reports tremendous weight even though they are considered to be unreliable hearsay in the criminal legal system,” said Nayna Gupta, NIJC’s associate director of policy. “Using police reports to make weighty decisions on deportation and detention undermines basic due process and fairness and disparately impacts Black and Brown immigrants.”
Police reports are used routinely in nearly all immigration decision-making, including bond hearings, deportation decisions, and immigration enforcement operations. Drawing on interviews with NIJC’s experienced immigration legal staff and seven additional immigration legal aid organizations, Unreliable and Prejudicial: The Role of Police Reports in U.S. Immigration Detention & Deportation Decisions describes numerous ways that reliance on police reports harm immigrants fighting to stay with their loved ones:
- Immigration judges and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers treat police reports as reliable and truthful, despite the fact that they are well-acknowledged in the criminal legal system to be inherently unreliable and prejudicial due to the circumstances in which they are written.
- Police reports necessarily reflect first impressions and incomplete investigations, and are written in the context of an adversarial system where police officers and prosecutors work together against the accused.
- Police reports also embody racial biases that infect the criminal legal system.
The policy brief also examines the ways these problems have played out in the lives of individual immigrants. These include:
- Alma, a mother with no prior convictions who was charged with drug possession for drugs that did not belong to her. Alma was released on bail from criminal custody and then immediately re-arrested by ICE and held without bond during her pending criminal case on the basis of a police report.
- Luis, a client who was nearly denied bond from immigration detention based on a police report which erroneously identified him as the driver, rather than a passenger, in a DUI incident.
- Ousman, a Black immigrant from Gambia living in the heavily overpoliced neighborhood of the Bronx in New York City, who police arrested eight times over the course of his life, only one of which led to conviction. In his immigration case, the judge remained focused on the police reports from his arrests, despite Ousman’s extensive rehabilitation efforts, the hardships his young children would face without him, and a pardon from the governor of New York for his sole conviction.
Among NIJC's recommendations are to mandate training for immigration judges and DHS officials on proper use of police reports, including establishing a presumption of unreliability; providing people facing detention and deportation an opportunity to refute directly any police report used against them; and ensuring that police reports of criminal cases that are pending or did not result in criminal convictions are given lesser or no weight in immigration proceedings.