As of Nov. 12, Immigration and Customs Enforcement was no longer holding any detained immigrants in New Jersey county jails for the first time in more than two decades. This action comes as activists battled to keep ICE detention facilities out of the state, with advocacy intensifying in the past few months. In October 2021, all remaining detained immigrants from the Hudson County Jail, and just last week from the Bergen County Jail, were either transferred to other facilities, released or deported. Most were moved from New Jersey jails to two facilities in New York State: the Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen and the Buffalo Service Processing Center in Batavia, near Buffalo.
At the same time, the New York State Senate and Assembly introduced the “Dignity Not Detention” Act, which would ban government entities from entering into new agreements to house individuals in immigration detention facilities, and would require government entities to end their existing contracts for the detention of individuals in detention facilities in New York. The bill is currently in committee.
Advocates have urged ICE to instead release people rather than moving them further away from family and legal teams. ICE addressed the recent transfers in a statement to Documented. “Whenever possible, ICE seeks to house detainees within the geographical area of their arrest, in an effort to keep them close to family, friends, and legal representatives, and in an effort to shorten length of stay in ICE custody,” ICE said.
“Changes to contracts can impact ICE operations, where ICE may have to depend on its national system of detention bed space to place those detainees in locations farther away.”
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One private detention center still remains in New Jersey, the Elizabeth Contract Detention facility. In fiscal year 2022, which began on Oct. 1 2021, the facility has held a daily average of 105 detained immigrants as of Oct. 28, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University (TRAC).
Documented took a look at the two facilities where detained immigrants formerly held in New Jersey jails have been transferred:
After New Jersey Jails: Buffalo Service Processing Center (Batavia, N.Y.)
Immigrant advocates said that on Friday, Nov. 12, the last 15 remaining immigrants at the Bergen County jail in New Jersey were transferred to The Buffalo Service Processing Center in Batavia, N.Y. ICE confirmed that these 15 individuals were transferred to “other ICE facilities,” but did not specify to where. “Every effort was made to keep transferred detainees as close to New Jersey as possible,” ICE said in a statement.
The facility has a capacity for about 650 detained immigrants, according to documents obtained by the National Immigrant Justice Center. The detention center, which is outside Buffalo, is New York State’s largest immigration detention facility. It lies more than 350 miles away from Bergen County jail, where many were transferred from.
This year, the number of people detained at the facility has changed significantly. The facility held 260 people in February, according to the Buffalo News, and more than 100 people in the facility in June, City Limits reported. In fiscal year 2022, Batavia has held a daily average of 400 detained immigrants at their facility as of Oct. 28, according to TRAC.
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For years, since the facility first opened in 1998 — and especially since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic — the facility has been hit with lawsuits and complaints regarding various health and safety issues.
Reports of Covid outbreaks have been documented at the facility since April of 2020. Still, some requests for medical release due to health problems that made immigrants vulnerable to the virus were denied, Documented has reported.
In February of this year, a judge said that the facility would have to come up with a plan to vaccinate those held inside, the Buffalo News reported, as more than 40 immigrants were infected. Throughout the pandemic, ICE has recorded 142 Covid cases at the facility, according to the agency’s website — more than any of the New Jersey county jails have seen combined, according to ICE’s count. The facility’s February outbreak infected 63% of the detained immigrants at the jail, the Albany Times Union reported.
ICE has defended their Covid protocols at the facility, alleging in court and in statements to advocates that the agency has been following guidance from the CDC.
The detention facility has also faced some pushback from immigration advocates for other issues, though some attorneys have said that the facility is better than others across the country.
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Last year, The Worker Justice Center of New York filed a suit against Akima Global Services, the company operating the Batavia detention center, on behalf of two previously detained immigrants who claimed that they were hired by the company to perform manual labor in the facility but were only compensated in $1 per day in commissary credit.
In 2019, an investigation published by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) obtained ICE data which revealed that one man was detained at Batavia in solitary confinement for more than two years.
And in 2016, three workers in Batavia were placed on leave after allegations surfaced that two kitchen workers and an AGS contract officer fed Muslim detained immigrants chicken out of the garbage for their meals during Ramadan, according to ABC 7 Buffalo.
Thomas Feeley, the ICE field office director for Buffalo, has previously told the Buffalo News that internal issues at the facility have been sparse.
How We Covered It: Activists at Bergen County Jail Protest Detainees Being Moved Out of State
After New Jersey Jails: Orange County Correctional Facility (Goshen, N.Y.)
As the Hudson County jail emptied its facility of any detained immigrants, individuals there were transferred to the Orange County Correctional Facility, about 60 miles northwest of New York City.
The facility has the capacity to hold about 800 detained immigrants, but in February 2021 it held roughly 300 detained immigrants, State Sen. Jessica Ramos said when she made a surprise visit to the facility. As of Oct. 28, 2021, Orange has held a daily average of 79 detained immigrants at their facility, according to TRAC.
The detention facility has also faced its fair share of Covid-related complaints since the start of the pandemic.
When Ramos toured the facility in early February, staff members informed her that detained immigrants only get tested for Covid-19 if they are new to the facility or if they are sick, Documented reported.
And in June, in a letter signed by dozens of organizations sent to ICE protesting the transfers of detained immigrants, advocates said that immigrants “detained at Orange County Jail reported that guards frequently did not wear gloves or masks and that they have inadequate access to hygienic materials, like soap and clean water.”
Attorneys have previously told Documented that communication at the Orange County jail can be difficult, particularly for video calls. Advocates also noted that the facility is more remote than the New Jersey jails and far from easily accessible public transportation, so it is harder for family or friends to visit their detained loved ones there.
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Assembly members have previously criticized Orange County jail for its treatment of ICE detainees held in its facilities. In November of 2018, Assemblyman David Weprin, who represents District 24 in Queens, said that detained immigrants were being held like regular inmates in general confinement, with mandatory lockdown periods and wearing prison uniforms. But at the time, many were asylum seekers caught in the backlog of the immigration courts.
Data received by Documented in 2018 through a Freedom of Information Law request shows that Orange County received a total of about $8 million from the ICE service agreements in 2017 and 2016 and $2.8 million through April of 2018.