Immigrant Rights Organizations File FOIA Lawsuit Seeking Information on “Batavia” NY Detention Center

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 1, 2022

NEW YORK—Today, on behalf of plaintiffs Justice for Migrant Families Western New York, Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York (PLS), and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (RFKHR); co-counsel Justice Action Center, PLS, RFKHR, and pro bono counsel Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to obtain records from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on its policies and practices at the Buffalo Service Processing Center. Known as “Batavia,” the largest immigration detention center in New York State has gained notoriety among advocates for its egregious conditions of confinement, lack of transparency, and unsafe release practices, with outcomes of serious injury and even death.

The lawsuit comes after eight months of ICE ignoring the original March 2022 FOIA request. As the complaint describes, “ICE has refused to even process the request, much less produce the requested records.”

As explained in the FOIA request, people detained at Batavia describe alarming practices that violate their rights under the constitution, federal law, and ICE’s own standards. One person, Elias*, who was detained at Batavia for three years, described being “threatened with ‘la hielera’ [the freezer] for speaking to outside groups.” Others report arbitrary and retaliatory use of solitary confinement, physical and verbal abuse by officials, racial discrimination, lack of accommodations for disabled people, inhumane release practices, and medical neglect.

For example, last winter, ICE was releasing migrants from Batavia without warning at a rural gas station, where they were often stranded late at night, lacking winter-appropriate clothing, funds for travel, or any assistance in finding shelter or reuniting with family.

These unsafe practices are compounded for medically vulnerable people. A man named Pierre with severe schizophrenia and multiple physical health conditions was found dead in the street shortly after being released from Batavia at a rural gas station. Despite months of advocacy and repeated requests by Justice for Migrant Families Western New York, ICE refused to provide a release date or any accommodations for Pierre’s disabilities in order to facilitate Pierre’s safe release.

Daniel*, another formerly detained person at Batavia, illustrates the importance of the FOIA request: “The conditions at Batavia detention center are utterly unacceptable. You don’t have any basic human rights, and if you try to stand up for yourself, you’re labeled a troublemaker and transferred to another facility. It was really like living in a nightmare day after day. People really need to know what is going on inside Batavia because the public only hears what ICE says.”

Read the full complaint here.

*Pseudonyms to protect identities

Contacts:

Justice for Migrant Families Western New York: Jennifer Connor, jennifer@jfmfwny.org
Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York: John Peng, jpeng@plsny.org
RFK Human Rights: Amy Reid, reid@rfkhumanrights.org
Justice Action Center: Tasha Moro, tasha.moro@justiceactioncenter.org

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