Advocates estimate that ICE moved dozens of individuals at the Orange County Jail in New York on Monday, and sent them to detention centers in Mississippi and elsewhere in New York, without prior notification to families or attorneys about the transfers.
Attorneys with the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) – a group of organizations that provide free legal representation for detained immigrants facing deportation – said they began to receive calls from detained immigrants worried about potentially being transferred last week.
In a statement, NYIFUP said they contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “multiple times” throughout last week to confirm information about potential transfers away from the Orange County facility. But ICE “denied specific transfer plans,” NYIFUP said.
In an email reviewed by Documented, an ICE official said last week that jail management staff had requested that ICE assist them “by drawing down the overall population in their facility to a lower level,” and that ICE was in the “planning stages” of that.
“ICE’s decision to transfer detained immigrant New Yorkers from the Orange County Correctional Facility to unknown locations outside of the NYC area, without any prior notice to detained people’s families or legal counsel, is reckless and unsafe,” NYIFUP said in a statement. The NYIFUP includes three public defender groups: The Bronx Defenders, The Legal Aid Society, and Brooklyn Defender Services.
In a statement, an ICE spokesperson said that on Monday, “a number of detainees” were transferred to ICE facilities in Mississippi and New York “as part of a facility-wide reduction in population affecting all agencies that use the facility.”
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“To accommodate various operational demands, and meet emergent requirements, ICE routinely transfers individuals to designated facilities and locations based on available space and resources, at the needs of the agency and other partner agencies with whom the agency coordinates whole-of-government efforts,” the spokesperson said.
ICE did not respond to specific questions about how many people were transferred, if the transfers will continue, and about whether or not attorneys were notified about these transfers before they happened, among other inquiries.
Myriah J. Heddens, an immigration staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society, said that the group had verified that 29 individuals have been transferred to the Adams County Correctional Center in Mississippi, and one to the Batavia Service Processing Center near Buffalo.
But Heddens is still unsure where some of her clients are currently located, as all of the upcoming legal calls were canceled by the Orange County facility, she said. “There are a lot of people who are unaccounted for,” Heddens said.
The Orange County Jail in Goshen, New York, has been at the center of allegations of mistreatment. Earlier this year, immigrant advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, alleging abuse and unsafe conditions at the detention center. New York City Council members also voiced concerns about a lack of Covid-19 protocols, inadequate medical care and insufficient language services after a rare tour of the facility in the spring.
Advocates have been pushing for individuals to be released from the facility amidst these conditions. With the quick-turnaround of the recent transfers, attorneys said that they did not even have time to submit release requests with ICE for their clients.
“We’re not saying people should stay at Orange County Jail,” said Karla Ostolaza, the Managing Director of the Immigration Practice at The Bronx Defenders. “But the demand is for ICE to release people so they can actually have access to their attorneys and their families and their community.”
ICE’s policy on transfers says that the agency will “ensure that all necessary notifications are made to detainees and their attorneys when detainees are transferred.” But ICE is not required to “notify family members or other third parties of a transfer,” according to the policy.
If detained individuals have an attorney on record, ICE will notify the attorney that their client is being transferred “as soon as practicable on the day of the transfer,” the policy says, but never later than 24 hours after the transfer happens. A spokesperson for ICE said that the New York Field Office “made the attorney and detainee notifications according to the transfer policy.”
Attorneys say they if they are receiving notice, it is after their clients have been transferred.
Ellen Pachnanda, the Attorney-in-Charge for the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project at Brooklyn Defender Services, said that of the 17 clients that the group represented at the Orange facility, they knew of 11 that had been transferred on Monday to Mississippi. Brooklyn Defender Services did not receive transfer notifications until Monday in the late afternoon and evening, Pachnanda said.
“They’re not only taking, obviously, these individuals away from their communities and families, but they’re taking them away from their access and their right to counsel of choice,” Pachnanda said.