Legal Aid Society

A Day In The Life

Demanding Respect and Dignity in ICE Custody in the Immigration Law Unit

Marion Koshy feels a strong connection to her clients because of shared life experience. Her empathy plays a crucial role as a social worker in the Immigration Law Unit and New York Immigrant Family Unity Project where she helps clients in ICE detention centers.

In her 9 years at Legal Aid, she’s yet to come across a facility that does an adequate job of caring for detained immigrants in need of care, some are far worse than others.

I understand their stories as a child of immigrants. I have a connection with these clients. They deserve respect and dignity.

She has a client who landed in the Orange County, NY facility just before the pandemic began, known amongst staff for denying detainees with proper care. He suffered from anxiety and had tremors resulting from PTSD. Once the pandemic hit, his condition worsened. “He was scared all the time and overwhelmed by everything happening in the world, and during the pandemic, Orange County became hardly staffed at all.”

“He told me he didn’t want to fight anymore.”

Thankfully, Marion knew how to communicate with the Orange County staff to get him the care he needed until he was finally released to his family and put into treatment. “I was told that they wouldn’t give a detainee medicine for sleep, but what they needed to know was it wasn’t for sleep, it was for PTSD, a condition that was exacerbated by 2 years at Orange County.”

Now, she encourages clients to advocate for themselves too. She helps them understand their symptoms and what they are experiencing, and helps them communicate to staff when they are in crisis. For example, she instructs them to tell staff they’re having nightmares instead of “I can’t sleep”.

Her work is not always done once a client is released. Some receive treatment or await trial amongst loved ones, but many are not as fortunate.

While most Legal Aid clients live within the five boroughs, as long as a detained client is processed at Varick street in Manhattan, they fall within our jurisdiction. This disperses immigration clients throughout the Tri State area, and sometimes farther.

The majority of Marion’s clients end up in the suburbs of NYC. There’s not only far less opportunity for treatment, but often, what’s available is not in their native tongue, or delayed by long wait lists. But with the help of a social worker like Marion, they have a fierce advocate and compassionate guide to navigate a complex and harsh system.

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