NYU immigration report details
disturbing allegations of Essex County detainee
Friday, March 23, 2012
Jason Grant, New Jersey The
The immigrants being held in Essex County and facing deportation
tell of being locked down in rooms while being denied medical help, of not
getting "a mere" 1,000 to 1,500 calories a day in nutrition, of trying to sleep
fully clothed in freezing spaces, of fellow detainees "who haven’t seen the sun
for over two years."
These are some of the testimonial details gathered
from detainees whose anonymous quotes lace a disturbing report released Thursday
by New York University School of Law’s immigrant-rights clinic.
titled "Immigration Incarceration: The Expansion and Failed Reform of
Immigration Detention in Essex County, N.J." and done in cooperation with New
Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, will undergird an important law
school-run conference today in Newark that focuses on the rights and treatment
of the nation’s scores of imprisoned immigrants.
In 39 pages, the report
claims Essex County has more than 1,200 detainees, many of whom are suffering
through abusive, unsafe and unclean conditions that fail to meet the federal
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s own standards for such
It also bluntly recommends that "ICE should cease detaining
immigrants in state and local jails, starting with those facilities that fail to
meet the 2011 ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards," and says "ICE
officials should use alternatives to detention, such as supervised
But ICE officials, along with those who run both Essex County
facilities housing detainees — the county jail and the privately run Delaney
Hall — offered swift responses Thursday.
"The report by the New York
University School of Law and N.J. Advocates is the latest attempt to discredit
the Essex County Correctional Facility and Essex County’s contract with ICE to
house immigration detainees," said Alfaro Ortiz, director of the Essex County
ICE, meanwhile, noted that it had not yet had a chance to read the
NYU report, but said, "Since ICE initiated detention reform in August of 2009,
the agency has made tremendous strides in our ongoing efforts to reform the
immigration detention system, prioritizing the health and safety of detainees in
In a statement, the agency added, "ICE has taken aggressive
steps to increase oversight through announced and unannounced inspections … and
by hiring more than 40 Detention Services Managers, who work to ensure
appropriate conditions exist at detention facilities."
Education Centers, the for-profit group that runs Delaney Hall, responded by
sending out a copy of a recently published United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees report that the group said "presents an accurate and balanced account
of the positive steps that Delaney Hall has taken to be a humane facility for
The issue of detention-conditions for
immigrants, along with that of how best to deal with people facing deportation,
many of whom are not alleged to have committed a crime, will dovetail with other
issues at today’s Newark conference, says its organizer, Rutgers-Newark law
school professor Anjum Gupta.
Gupta, a recently hired professor who has
opened her own immigrant-rights clinic at Rutgers, added a major thrust of the
daylong event will be to "call to action" New Jersey and New York’s robust
community of lawyers to vastly increase pro bono representation of immigrants
According to Gupta, immigrants, often without
financial resources or a knowledge of the system, routinely go unrepresented by
counsel as they try to avoid deportation.
She says a recent study spearheaded
by a prominent judge for the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals showed immigrants
with legal counsel in New York between 2005 and 2010 had "successful outcomes"
in their cases 67 percent of the time, while those without representation won
such outcomes only 8 percent of the time.
"We really want to highlight in
the conference how much of a difference representation makes," Gupta said,
noting that since her clinic opened in January, it has gotten dozens of calls
and letters from immigrants in New Jersey and social services organizations that
work with them.
But even as U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) makes a
keynote speech at today’s event, and various symposiums take place, it’s
possible the NYU report will create the biggest stir among the crowd of law
professors, students, lawyers and advocates gathering by the hundreds at the
Rutgers-Newark building on Washington Street.
"We’re essentially seeing
ongoing complaints about inadequate medical attention, poor food quality and
mistreatment by guards and staff," Alina Das, the law professor who helps run
NYU’s immigrant-rights clinic, said in an interview Wednesday. What’s more, she
said, "there’s a lack of oversight and accountability" at Essex County’s two
facilities, "yet the federal government and counties have been continuing to
expand" the civil detention of immigrants.
Das said studies show
alternatives to detention, such as releasing immigrants on supervision and bond,
have proven effective in keeping tabs on those who must go through the legal
process, while still allowing them to be with their families and be productive
Das pointed to ICE’s expansion of the number of immigrant
detainees it keeps in Essex County — from 500 to 1,250 beds in a move completed
in 2011 — while also noting that many of New York’s immigrants are housed in New
"The concern that I have about ICE’s policy of expansion before
reform is that they’ll only continue to hold people in these facilities without
having meaningful reform," she said. "Alternatives to detention are more humane,
they’re more cost-effective."
ICE, in its statement Thursday, countered
Das, saying it had reduced its overall number of facilities in the
"Part of ICE’s detention reform efforts are also aimed at putting
detention centers in strategic locations that maximize detainee access to local
consulates and pro-bono legal services, reduce detainee transfers ... and
increase overall operational efficiencies," the statement said.
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