Daily News: New York City's immigration case backlog is worst in the nation

People enter the Jacob K. Javits Federal at 26 Federal Plaza, where New York's immigration court is inside, Wednesday, March 18, 2015. (Mary Altaffer / AP)

People enter the Jacob K. Javits Federal at 26 Federal Plaza, where New York's immigration court is inside, Wednesday, March 18, 2015. (Mary Altaffer / AP)

A Jamaican woman horrifically tortured and raped by her uncle has been in ICE detention for nearly a year and a half — a tragic case that highlights the growing gridlock in the city's immigration court.

The woman, who the Daily News is not naming because she is a rape victim, has been locked up in an ICE jail in Hudson County, N.J. since May 4, 2017. The 42-year-old mother of two has missed her eldest daughter's high school graduation and cries frequently during conversations with her kids and husband.

"She feels like she's worthless — she's a screw up, she's not there for her kids," the woman's 48-year-old husband said. "It's tough. I've been without my wife for 16 or 17 months."

Her harrowing story highlights the unprecedented backlog in New York immigration court, where the number of pending cases was 99,919 at the end of August – the most of any city in the country.

The data compiled by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse shows the number of pending immigration cases in the city — nearly all of them deportation cases — has nearly doubled since fiscal year 2014, when there were 54,964 pending cases.

The Jamaican woman illegally reentered the U.S. around 2011 after she'd been deported twice. She returned to the U.S., she said, because she'd been raped and tortured for months by her uncle in rural Jamaica in 2008 — abuse that she detailed at length in immigration hearings.

She said she illegally returned to the U.S. because while she was back in Jamaica, she heard her twisted uncle was looking for her, according to papers filed in Manhattan Federal Court.

ICE arrested the woman at her home last year as part of a roundup of undocumented immigrants, her lawyer Craig Relles said.

"I know I've done wrong, and I am truly sorry from the bottom of my heart that I broke the laws of this great nation," she said in a court hearing in December 2017.

"I was just looking for protection and that is all...I have nowhere else."

Immigration Judge Lauren Farber ruled in June that the woman was credible and that she should not be deported. But the government appealed and she remains in detention.

"She talks to the kids on the phone and she breaks down crying," her husband said.

The couple's daughters, aged 10 and 17, both struggled at school after their mom was arrested by ICE.

"I have to rush from work. I can't do any overtime," he said. "Sometimes when I'm tired and I don't feel like talking she'll think I'm seeing someone else."

Relles described the toll prolonged detention takes on his clients.

"Utter despair. Disbelief. A sense of hopelessness sets in," he said.

"They're either going back to a place they're afraid of or they live in jail."

Though the details of the woman's ordeal are horrific, the length of her stay in detention is not unusual. Such suits are commonplace in Manhattan Federal Court, where immigrant detainees routinely file suits alleging their due process rights are being violated by extended stays in immigration detention.

The Legal Aid Society's top immigration attorney, Hasan Shafiqullah, said President Trump's immigration crackdown is jamming up the system.

"ICE has been going after people for reasons large and small," he said.

"There's not enough judges to adjudicate these cases."

Department of Justice spokesman Devin O'Malley said that a "Strategic Caseload Reduction Plan" was underway that allowed for more use of video conferences in immigration cases. He noted that there are now 395 immigration judges — a 30% increase from Jan. 2017.