Attorneys are alleging abusive and racist treatment of detainees at an immigration detention center at the Orange County Correctional Facility in the Hudson Valley, where some undocumented immigrants from New York City were moved in recent months after detention facilities closed in New Jersey.
The Immigrant Rights Clinic at New York University’s School of Law filed complaints in recent weeks with the Department of Homeland Security and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail. The allegations center on the treatment of a mentally disabled and cognitively impaired Mexican immigrant. The detainee, identified by his initials L.G.C., attempted suicide four times since being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement last February for lacking legal documents.
Despite his suicidal ideation and documented mental health issues, the lawyers claim he has not been given the required mental health treatment. Instead, the complaints say, L.G.C. was put in solitary confinement, given improper doses of medication, and threatened by correctional officers (“If I saw you at the border I’d fucking blow off your head,” and “You locked yourself up because you came to this country, so you don’t get water,” as quoted in the complaint.).
Orange County Undersheriff Kennth T. Jones said all of the allegations would be investigated. “We will look into every element of [their] complaint, but I think this is always the case of advocates of this nature -- they go a bridge too far,” he said.
Jones cited an allegation in the complaints that L.G.C. wasn’t given clean water to drink. He said all cells have a sink attached to the toilet with drinking water. “I’m surprised when any attorney who considers themselves of substance makes flat-out lies as part of their legal documents,” Jones said.
Three county jails in New Jersey recently ended their multimillion dollar detention contracts with ICE following years of reports about the abuse of detainees by humanitarian groups, government inspectors, and WNYC/Gothamist. The detention center closures, along with a recently signed law banning new detention centers in the state, were pushed by activists who pressured elected officials.
Activists had hoped that detainees, who are held to insure they show up to deportation hearings, would be released when the New Jersey detention centers closed. An ICE spokesperson said Wednesday that 15% of detainees held at those jails were released, but the rest -- 132 -- were transferred to other facilities. Many ended up at the Buffalo Service Processing Center or the Orange County Correctional Facility, which has added detainees in recent months.
L.G.C has lived in Newburgh, NY, for the last 22 years. After being released from jail in February for a charge that resulted in a non-criminal violation, ICE took him into custody. While locked up, he has experienced visual and auditory hallucinations of violence against his relatives related to his experience witnessing murder in Mexico, and a psychological evaluation found that he “is slipping more into a psychotic state that is not being addressed at the jail.”
Attorneys for L.G.C. say his experience is reflective of larger systemic problems at the facility, with other detainees reporting racist and abusive conduct by correctional officers. One detainee, who asked not to be identified due to fear of retribution, said that he witnessed corrections officers making racist and disparaging comments against L.G.C. “I think they’re doing this to provoke us and make us look bad in front of the [immigration] judge,” he told WNYC/Gothamist.
The attorneys want the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the jail, and they are asking a federal judge to release him.
“I’ve been raising concerns regularly about this particular situation for months, and it doesn’t seem to have been improving,” said L.G.C.’s attorney Molly Lauterback, of Brooklyn Defender Services. “I’ve called the jail to report my concerns about his self-injurious behavior and I was told I was wasting their mental health resources and he was lying to me, which was patently untrue given what I observed with my own eyes.”
ICE did not respond to requests for comment about the allegations.