Gillibrand, Higgins call out ICE

Citing previous reporting by Investigative Post, senator and congressman want stepped up oversight of Batavia facility

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins want federal scrutiny of the way Immigrations and Customs Enforcement treats immigrants held at its detention center in Batavia.

Investigative Post reported last week that ICE routinely released detainees without regard for their well-being, dropping them off at a local gas station and bus stop without sufficient notice to family or lawyers or means to reach safe quarters. Investigative Post previously reported on what detainees described as unhealthy conditions inside the facility that have contributed to the infection of 49 detainees with COVID-19.

“I’m deeply concerned by the reports of ICE’s inhumane treatment of detainees,” Gillibrand said in a statement.

“I have pressed the inspector general for greater oversight of these facilities to demand more accountability for the well-being of all detainees, including those at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility,” Gillibrand said.

Such a review, if undertaken, would be conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has oversight of ICE.

Earlier this year, Higgins wrote to the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the division of the U.S. Department of Justice that oversees court proceedings that determine whether someone stays in the country or must be deported, about safety concerns at the Batavia facility. A Higgins spokesperson said “health concerns” there have also been discussed among members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Investigative Post reported last week that the release of detainees is often not coordinated with attorneys or family members. People are instead abruptly dropped off at a nearby gas station that also serves as a Greyhound bus stop. They’re sometimes left after busses have departed for the day, and without the money to purchase a ticket.

Theresa Kennedy, a Higgins spokesperson, said Investigative Post’s report has been forwarded to the House’s Judiciary Committee.

“There is no excuse for abandoning a human being at a gas station,” she said.

Higgins, in a May 5 follow up letter letter to the Executive Office of Immigration Review, said: “I request that ICE and the Buffalo Federal Detention Center improve their coordination with local agencies to ensure both humane treatment of detainees and a more seamless transition upon their release from detention. Ensuring released detainees have proper shelter and support is important, especially during the ongoing public health emergency. Western New York has an abundance of resources available to help facilitate this collaboration.”

ICE, when asked to comment, said it stands by an earlier statement in which it denied that detainees are released in the manner reported by Investigative Post.