Hundreds of asylum seekers have been camping outside of ICE headquarters in Lower Manhattan for more than a day in near-freezing temperatures only to be told their processing appointments wouldn’t be honored.
Many migrants, some with babies and young children in tow, spent the night outside 26 Federal Plaza in 34 degree temperatures on Tuesday and Wednesday, braving dangerously cold conditions and capricious procedures that saw appointments being ignored as people were served on a first come, first serve basis.
A makeshift mini-tent city formed outside US Customs and Immigration Enforcement headquarters, with cardboard boxes, backpacks and blankets strewn across the concrete, in the dark, early Wednesday morning hours, according to video shot by Spectrum News NY1, which first reported on the haphazard procedure.
By the time the sun rose, one family of migrants had been waiting 25 hours outside ICE headquarters at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan, to no avail.
Stephanie R., and her 5-year-old daughter Evelyn and 23-year-old cousin had arrived at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday for a 9 a.m. appointment, which was not honored even though the Ecuador natives were more than two hours early, they told The Post Wednesday.
“In the paper it says the appointment is 9 a.m. yesterday but the people from here ask, ‘What time is your appointment?’ I say, 9am. He say, ‘You missed it! Come back tonight! You’re going to have to wait on line tonight to get another appointment,” Stephanie said in Spanish.
“I say, missed it? It’s not for 2 and a half hours? I think he is crazy so I wait,” she continued as bystander Carlos Peralta, 31, of Pennsylvania translated to The Post.
As the women stood outside ICE headquarters through the day into the next night, Evelyn developed a nasty cough in the brisk late November weather.
“Too cold, I stand and shake. It was so cold my hands hurt, until I can’t feel. It hurt so bad holding her,” Stephanie said.
“A man came and took the two girls into his car so they could sleep because they were too cold. Thank God.” She (Evelyn) is sick now,” the mother said as her daughter coughed up a storm, looking miserable.
“This is the first time we feel this temperature. We come from a tropical country. It was not the coldest last night. It was the coldest this morning around 4:00 a.m. I was like ‘whoa! Will we make it?’ I didn’t even know if it get cold like this.”
After waiting all through the night to be processed by ICE, the family was told for the second straight day she wouldn’t have her appointment honored after all.
An immigration official instead showed Stephanie how to make a new appointment on the smartphone that ICE issued her at the Mexican border, a process that could have been done Tuesday morning from anywhere.
Officials told Stephanie the online process would take three weeks.
“We crossed the border a month ago from my country and they gave us these papers and this telephone with a GPS in it to tell where we are, and they tell us this office here is where we have to come on this day at this time,” she said.
“This is how it works. It is no good,” she said, drained of emotion, as she waited for a ride back to Queens, where she was staying with friends.
By midday, the line — which had swollen to about 175 people at 4 a.m., according to NY1 –had dissipated, after officials told migrants whose appointments could not be accommodated Wednesday to try again after the holiday weekend.
Migrants who continued to trickle into ICE headquarters, paperwork in hand, in the hopes that officials would make an exception to accommodate them, were bluntly told otherwise.
“We’re closed, we’re closed,” a guard at the door barked in English to several asylum seekers, even as non-migrants with business at the immigration center that carried passports from Ireland and Japan were allowed into the building without question.
One man who was denied entry to the building Wednesday afternoon said it was the seventh time he had tried and failed to attend his processing appointment, underscoring the longstanding scope of the problem as cold weather settled into the region.
Marlo Lopez, 35 was one of the last few people trickling out of Federal Plaza with a manila envelope at around 1 p.m.
“Yes I was able to be attended today, I made the line at 2 a.m. and they took people in until about 5 a.m.” he said.
“The line almost wrapped around the building, I got in it when it was on the other street,” and pointed to the corner of Lafayette and Duane Street.
“There was still a huge line when I went in, I’m not sure how many they let in after me but there was at least 50 people left, it was freezing but you just have to be bundled up really well,” he said, adding that people with children had been waiting for more than 12 hours.
A family of four — a mother, father, a little boy and a baby girl— came for their appointment at 2:15 p.m. and were turned away and told to come back on Monday.
Security guards also blocked The Post from entering 26 Federal Plaza and inquiring about the slipshod system in person.
In a statement to The Post, ICE said it was “working to address current processing delays at some ICE offices,” which sources said were worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Noncitizens should review the ICE check-in criteria and, when possible, make an appointment using the ICE Appointment Scheduler,” the agency said.
ICE said migrants who waited in line all night to make their appointments would not be penalized for missing them if they scan a quick response code with a smartphone.
“Noncitizens would not be deemed a no-show for their appointments if they utilize the QR code. – ICE would reschedule them,” officials said.
The agency’s advise was not helpful to the nearly two hundred migrants who waited in line overnight for an unknown number processing appointments.
People on line told NY1 they were taking the extreme measures because ICE only lets in the number of people the agency can see that day on a first come, first served basis, regardless of who has appointments.
“It’s pretty cold, even my foot falls asleep, even I can’t move my whole hand,” Edi Kiste told NY1 in Spanish at 2:30 a.m. as she held her 2-year-old daughter on Lafayette Street
“I bundled her up with three pants, a jacket, and like two polo shirts inside,” she reportedly said, adding they were still cold.
“It gives hypothermia,” Laura Godoi reportedly said of the weather. Godoi had been waiting outside since 7 p.m., 13 hours before her appointment.
Another woman was reportedly seen breastfeeding her baby in the near-freezing temperatures as she waited.
The situation came as New York City and other sanctuary cities saw an influx of migrants by the thousands, some shipped from the southern border by the Biden administration and many others by Texas officials including Gov. Greg Abbott and the mayor of El Paso.
More than 2.4 million migrants arrived in the US in the fiscal year that ended in September; a record annual high.
The trend appeared to lessen slightly last month, with some 130,000 migrants escaping oppression in Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico and Central America cross the border last month, according to US Customs and Border Protection.
However, there were signs the crisis was set to worsen after a federal judge struck down a Trump-era border policy that allowed law enforcement to swiftly expel migrants caught entering the country illegally last week.
Nearly 26,000 asylum seekers had gone through New York City’s intake system and offered shelter in the boroughs since the spring, city officials said Wednesday.
Almost 18,700 migrants were currently being cared for at 57 emergency shelters and 3 Humanitarian Emergency Relief and Recovery Centers, according to City Hall.
Mayor Eric Adams declared a state of emergency during the crisis, and is seeking $1 billion in relief from Albany and Washington, DC to offset the city’s humanitarian efforts.
The harsh and haphazard conditions surrounding New York City’s migrant crisis provoked reaction from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Brooklyn Democrat.
“There needs to be a more efficient and humane way for ICE to schedule and process people for check-ins and other appearances,” a spokesperson for the powerful lawmaker reportedly said.
“We are in touch with ICE and advocacy organizations to urge prompt improvements.”