It was just after 2:30 a.m. on a crisp, cold New York City night. The temperature read 34 degrees, but it felt colder. It was the first truly cold day of autumn.
“It’s pretty cold, even my foot falls asleep, even I can’t move my whole hand,” said Edi Kiste, who was bundled up in a line outside immigration offices in downtown Manhattan.
She spoke with NY1 as she held her two-year-old daughter, who spent the entire night outside with her.
“I bundled her up with three pants, a jacket, and like two polo shirts inside,” she said.
She said they were still cold.
On Lafayette Street, there are many strollers and children at this very early hour, all bundled up, all waiting.
One mom appeared to breastfeed her daughter on the curb.
These families are here for the long haul, bringing out cardboard boxes, backpacks and blankets to create makeshift beds.
They are choosing to spend the night on concrete.
Laura Godoi said she arrived outside 26 Federal Plaza at 7 p.m., which was 13 hours before her appointment with immigration officials.
“It gives hypothermia,” she said, describing the wait and the cold weather.
There’s a reason why so many people are lining up on a cold November night with their children.
They are waiting for their appointments with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE.
Many of those NY1 met said they are required to report to ICE after crossing the southern border in recent months.
By 3:38 a.m., the line has only grown.
“We got like 174 people,” said Carlos Estevez, looking at a manila folder he brought to organize everyone in line.
Estevez is not a community organizer. He himself was in line for his own ICE appointment.
He brought the folder because of his past experience lining up for his appointment — and could help explain why so many people are out here overnight.
“They say you can’t enter,” he said.
In a statement to NY1, an ICE spokesperson said the agency is “working to address current processing delays at some ICE offices,” attributing the delays being exacerbated by COVID-19 in recent years.
ICE only lets in however many people the agency can see in one day, no matter how many have appointments set up or how long the line is overnight.
On this night, it’s Estevez’s third overnight trip. Same for Angel Gomez, who said the night before, he got in line at 2 a.m. But that was too late.
Nancy Angeles had a friend waiting in line. Just before 4:30 a.m., she opened her car door, allowing a new group of the people in line to get inside her warm car.
“Whether they’re immigrants or not, they’re people,” she said.
By this time, the line wrapped not only around the block, but continued across the street.
At 5 a.m., the makeshift beds were folded up, because there was an effort to organize the lines.
Estevez led the charge, even though it’s not his job.
Within an hour, ICE started checking people in from two lines, one for families and the other for everyone else.
People got through past the sunrise until 7:48 a.m.
There were still what looked like at least 100 people in line.
“That’s it for the day,” said an ICE agent to the crowd.
The crowd stood there, wondering what to do next. Some talked to ICE agents. Others took pictures of a QR code provided by ICE to follow-up.
People in line, who spoke with NY1, were frustrated. Leonardo Caso showed up at 5 a.m. Edi Fernandez arrived at 4:30 a.m.
Both said they were too late for their scheduled appointments.
“You get up early, and well, they don’t give you a solution,” said Fernandez.
ICE officials said people who miss appointments should also reach out by email.
“When I send them, they didn’t answer me,” said Hamida Al-Hassam, who added that he also missed his appointment, despite getting in line around 3 a.m.
NY1’s video of the overnight experience outside 26 Federal Plaza is generating a response in Washington, D.C.
“There needs to be a more efficient and humane way for ICE to schedule and process people for check-ins and other appearances,” said a spokesperson for Sen. Chuck Schumer. “We are in touch with ICE and advocacy organizations to urge prompt improvements.”
Adrian Pandev is an immigration lawyer based in New York City. NY1 showed him the scene outside 26 Federal Plaza.
“It just shows that the system is not at capacity. It’s over capacity,” he said. “What a mess.”
He thinks most are trying to check in with ICE, as required, within 60 days of crossing the southern border.
“These people are waiting in the streets to comply with the rules,” he said.
He said each day they’re denied their appointments, it pushes them closer to missing their deadline, possibly complicating their status in the U.S.
“Noncitizens would not be deemed a no-show for their appointments if they utilize the QR code,” an ICE spokesperson said to NY1. “ICE would reschedule them.”
An ICE spokesperson said missed appointments do not have to be counted against people in line if they take the proper action.