Allegations of ICE mistreatment of detainees
A coalition of advocates for immigrants’ rights claims that “egregious conditions” and “unsafe release practices” at the federal detention center in Batavia have caused detainees “serious injury and even death.”
Those claims are leveled in a Freedom of Information request filed Wednesday with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the agency that runs the Batavia facility, formally known as the Buffalo Service Processing Center.
In the FOIA request, the coalition cites current and former detainees’ accounts of beatings, medical neglect and other abuses.
In addition to conditions inside the detention center, the coalition takes issue with ICE’s practice of releasing detainees “without warning at a remote gas station, often late at night, lacking winter-appropriate clothing, funds for travel, or any assistance in finding shelter or reuniting with family.”
Investigative Post reported this practice two years ago. We have also reported on ICE’s management of the detention center and its treatment of detained immigrants.
The FOIA request asks ICE to provide records describing “policies and practices” at the facility, including provisions for detainees with mental and physical disabilities, medical care and language access. The request asks for contracts and communications with third-party vendors hired by ICE to provide these services.
It also asks for “records … regarding any death of a person in the custody of the Buffalo Field Office District, including any investigations or reports produced.”
The coalition comprises Justice for Migrant Families Western New York, Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, and Rapid Defense Network. The FOIA request was filed by Rapid Defense Network, Justice Action Center and the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which is representing the coalition pro bono.
The San Francisco firm has spearheaded numerous federal civil rights actions regarding immigrants and ICE detainees across the country.
And, indeed, the FOI letter reads like the first draft of a federal lawsuit. Under the heading “Purpose of the Request,” the letter cites Batavia’s “egregious conditions on confinement,” including “delaying or denying people necessary medical care,” “retaliatory use of solitary confinement without due process,” “physical abuse and mistreatment,” and “racial discrimination,” among other complaints.
Each of those complaints is illustrated with the experience of a current or former detainee, all identified with pseudonyms.
One former detainee, identified as Elias, said prisoners were threatened with solitary detention for speaking with attorneys and advocates about conditions at the facility. Elias spent three years locked up at Batavia, according to the letter.
Another former detainee identified as Daniel corroborated Elias’s retaliation claims, adding, “The conditions at Batavia detention center are utterly unacceptable. You don’t have any basic human rights … People really need to know what is going on inside Batavia because the public only hears what ICE says.”
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The letter also tells the story of a former detainee identified as Pierre, who suffered from “severe schizophrenia and other mental and physical disabilities,” according to the FOIA request.
For months, Justice for Migrant Families asked ICE to provide Pierre’s release date in order to arrange transportation, housing and medical care. ICE offered a range of possible dates — then, last August, released him early, dropping him at a Citgo station near the Batavia exit of Interstate 90 without notifying anyone.
Though the organization managed to get him to a shelter, Pierre “was found dead in the street,” according to the FOIA request, within a week of his release.
“The egregious conditions and troubling ICE practices at Batavia, detailed in the FOIA request, make clear the urgent need for ICE to disclose the requested information to the public,” Justice Action Center’s Lauren Wilfong told Investigative Post.
“Requesters and counsel are committed to ensuring the government lives up to its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act in order to shine a light on what happens behind closed doors at Batavia to the many people detained there.”