3/23: NYU report disturbing allegations of Essex County(NJ) detainee treatment
- NYU immigration report details disturbing allegations of Essex County detainee treatmentFriday, March 23, 2012
Jason Grant, New Jersey The Star-Ledger
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.
The report, 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 detention.
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 release."
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 jail.
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 our custody."
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."
Community 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 non-criminal detainees."
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 facing deportation.
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 in society.
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 Jersey.
"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 country.
"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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