The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, and The Bronx Defenders – New York City’s defender organizations providing free legal representation to detained immigrants through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) – today delivered testimony before the New York City Council Committee on Immigration’s oversight hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on immigration detention centers in New York.
NYIFUP providers detailed the inhumane conditions and abuse that incarcerated clients are routinely subjected to, highlighting egregious procedural and medical neglect by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and jail officials in their failure to adequately address COVID-19 and protect incarcerated individuals in their custody. Providers also described a culture of pervasive racism and xenophobia by New York county jails that contract with ICE, and significant limitations to access to counsel and due process violations, among many other issues.
The Council was also presented with testimony directly from those incarcerated at the Orange County Correctional Facility, where many immigrants are currently being detained by ICE.
One detained individual described their experiences with the facility’s medical unit, which has repeatedly ignored requests for assistance, despite at least six written requests.
“I have a chronic spinal condition that causes extreme pain in my back, neck, and legs, and affects my ability to sleep and walk. When I arrived at Orange, I reported all of this to the medical unit and explained the various ways I treat my condition when at home. Despite this, they have done basically nothing to help me. They were giving me Ibuprofen but have stopped giving it to me for weeks,” the individual writes. “While being here, I’ve been in some of the worst pain I’ve been in in a long time, but they don’t want to help me. It’s like I don’t exist to them.”
Another described being denied the basic necessity of water, even after a doctor explicitly advised the need for more fluids.
“I was sent to a doctor for a check up. She told me that my kidneys were being affected and told me that I really needed to take in a lot of fluids. I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to do what the doctor told me to do. When I got back to my cell, I asked the officer for water and he said no,’ ” reads the testimony. “I told him what the doctor said but he didn’t want to get it for me or let me get it for myself. I didn’t get water for the rest of the day except a little cup with dinner.”
The same individual described a violent incident at the hands of correction officers.
“There was an incident when six or seven officers attacked one man. One of the officers put his knee on his neck, he said he couldn’t breathe, but they wouldn’t move. An African inmate near me was trying to go down to help the one who was being punished, but we told him not to because we knew they would hurt him too. They made us go back into our cells and I don’t know what happened next.”
NYIFUP outlined a number of steps the City Council must take to protect immigrants, and once again called on ICE to release individuals in their detention, allowing families to reunite, regain stability, prioritize their family’s health needs, and retain reliable access to counsel.
Last Updated: 28 February 2022
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