“President Biden’s failure to divest from for-profit detention centers during his presidential term should urge New York leaders to use their constitutional powers to stop state and local facilities from continuing to profit from ICE detention.”

ICE Detention Facility

Josh Denmark/DHS

ICE’s Batavia-Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in upstate New York.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, originally intended to meet administrative hearing purposes, has devolved into a system marked by unnecessary deaths and family separation. This year alone, ICE has already reported several deaths in its custody. Their names were Chirino Peralta (32 years old), Ousmane Ba (33), Subash Shrestha (34), Frankline Okpu (37), Carlos Juan Francisco, (42), and  Charles Leo Daniel (61 ).

In Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, he promised to end for-profit detention centers because “no business should profit from the suffering of people fleeing violence.” In complete opposition to that promise, when presented with the opportunity to divest, Biden sided with private prison operator CoreCivic, and supported their demand to keep running an immigration detention center in New Jersey, despite state legislation prohibiting private detention facilities from entering into agreements to detain people for ICE.

Moreover, Biden’s most recent executive order bars and criminalizes undocumented migrants who cross the Southern border from a legal pathway to asylum, putting immigrant New Yorkers seeking shelter and asylum at a higher risk of being detained and at risk of death in detention. In the last year, the city has welcomed over 100,000 new arrivals seeking asylum.

President Biden’s failure to divest from for-profit detention centers during his presidential term should urge New York leaders to use their constitutional powers to stop state and local facilities from continuing to profit from ICE detention. Last year, immigrant New Yorkers detained at Orange County Correctional Facility (OCCF), New York’s second largest for-profit immigration detention center, sued ICE and Orange County officials for retaliation after protesting abuses they experienced while in detention, including severe medical and mental health neglect, racist and xenophobic harassment, and physical assault. Advocates report that the facility has failed to address the deplorable conditions in detention, while people there face continuous challenges in accessing legal counsel.

While inhumane conditions in detention persist and cause irreparable harm to immigrant families in New York, a self-proclaimed sanctuary city, this complicity with ICE detention is a deep betrayal. Furthermore, according to ICE, detention is meant to ensure that people in immigration removal proceedings appear in court. ICE’s contract with OCCF, which The Bronx Defenders obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, states, “all persons in the custody of ICE are Administrative detainees. This term recognizes that ICE detainees are not charged with criminal violations and are only held in custody to assure their presence throughout the administrative hearing process.” 

However, studies show that most people attend all of their immigration court hearings, and have more just outcomes while at liberty to pursue their case alongside a legal team. This should conclude that the costs of detention are too harmful just to meet ICE’s stated administrative needs and objectively unnecessary, so why does New York continue to allow state and local jails to contract with ICE? They are executing a business plan at the expense of people and collective safety. 

In 1997, Orange County Officials purchased 249 acres of farmland in the town of Goshen, New York (traditional territory of the Munsee Lenape) to build OCCF. Local groups opposed the plan, emphasizing that the small rural county did not need such a big jail and feared the county may attempt to make it a “moneymaker, and hold prisoners for ICE, State and Federal prisoners.”

They were right. Today, ICE pays OCCF $133.93 a day for each person detained there, totaling millions in 2021 alone. No amount of profit will ever justify or rectify the immense and irreparable harm that detention causes to a person’s mental and physical health, let alone their survival; or the emotional and financial impact on their loved ones, and entire communities across the state. 

New York leaders have an obligation to end this state’s long history of complicity in the profiting of the pain, oppression, and suffering of immigrants. Other States that have answered the call and passed legislation ending their complicity include New Jersey, Maryland, California, Illinois, and Colorado. New York State needs to be next and pass the Dignity Not Detention Act to get New York out of business with ICE. 

People power is about channeling our love for ourselves and each other into action. Until we free them all, please consider materially supporting people who are in ICE detention by checking out, donating, and sharing the Dignity Not Detention: A Fund for Detained Members

Carol Larancuent is an immigration policy advocate at The Bronx Defenders.