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ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE ACLU Finds Lengthy Confinement, Obstacles to Due Process, and Grim Conditions at INS Detention Center in New York; Report Details A `Microcosm of INS Detention Policy Nationwide' For IMMEDIATE RELEASE Embargoed until August 12, 1993 NEW YORK -- A two-year study of Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detention policies and practices in New York reveals that immigration detainees facing deportation are subjected to lengthy imprisonment in a high-rise office building jail that was never intended for detention of more than a few days. Detainees at the Varick Street Immigration Detention Center in lower Manhattan are denied fresh air, sunshine and outdoor exercise throughout their incarceration and are denied meaningful access to legal counsel and to the courts while in jail. These are the findings of "Justice Detained: Conditions at the Varick Street Immigration Detention Center," the product of a two-year study by the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project and the New York Civil Liberties Union. The report, released today and sent to Justice Department officials, describes an invisible world where immigrants experience months or even years of imprisonment and unhealthy conditions and where INS practices impede detainees' constitutional right of access to legal representation and the courts. "The conditions documented in this report are not unique to Varick Street," said Judy Rabinovitz, staff counsel to the ACLU's national Immigrants' Rights Project and principal author of the study. "The New York immigration jail is a microcosm of INS detention policy nationwide. INS practices and conditions in detention centers are denying immigrants the ability to pursue their legal claims." When Varick Street opened in 1984 it was intended for short term confinement of less than one week. The average length of detention is now six months, with some detainees confined for years. Reportedly 60 percent of these detainees are unrepresented. "Access to counsel and the courts is an essential safeguard against abuse and error," said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the Immigrants' Rights Project. "We call on the Attorney General to undertake a thorough review of INS detention policies and the conditions that are depriving INS detainees of meaningful access to the courts." Rabinovitz also noted that "detention imposes huge unnecessary costs on the American taxpayer." According to the report INS' detention budget has grown dramatically over the past ten years, from $15.7 million in 1981 to over $149 million today, with a corresponding increase in the length of detention at INS facilities and reports of substandard conditions at these facilities. The report finds that many Varick Street detainees are long-time residents of the United States with family members who are U.S. citizens and who may have bona fide legal claims to remain here. However, conditions at the detention facility make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to pursue their claims. The report documents several instances where U.S. citizens and others who were lawfully entitled to reside in the United States were erroneously detained at Varick Street. "Of particular concern to the ACLU," the report notes, "are the obstacles these and other detainees faced obtaining documentation and legal assistance to prove their cases." The specific conditions criticized by the report are: an inaccurate and incomplete legal services list, a telephone policy that permits only outgoing collect-calls and no incoming calls, lack of confidentiality in attorney/client visiting, an inadequate law library and lack of information available to detainees about their legal cases. Although each detainee is assigned a "deportation officer" (DPO), the ACLU report found that DPOs are often inaccessible, unresponsive or openly hostile to detainees. In addition, detainees complain of pressure to abandon their legal rights and agree to deportation, in part to avoid lengthy detention under conditions that one detainee described as "human storage." Detainees describe lack of fresh air and sunlight, poor sanitation, inadequate food, delays in receiving medical care, inadequate exercise and severe limitations on social visiting. Detainees also complained about arbitrary and punitive use of segregation and instances of verbal abuse and harassment by INS guards. The ACLU found that detainees are provided minimal, if any, information about Varick Street's grievance procedures and that the general perception among detainees is that it is futile to complain or that complaints will lead to retaliation. As a result, detainees have resorted to other means of resolving complaints, such as hunger strikes. In New York, INS was twice sued during the 1980s over conditions at its detention facilities. Varick Street opened in 1984 following one of these lawsuits yet was immediately plagued with the same problems. A 1986 General Accounting Office report was highly critical of the operation, noting among other things, the lack of outdoor exercise facilities and reports of "gross misconduct" by Varick Street staff. The ACLU report attributes the increased length of detention at INS detention facilities during the 1980s to shifts in federal policy that called for mandatory detention of many aliens and that made it more difficult for others to obtain release. --endit-- ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher:// | American Civil Liberties Union National Office | | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"


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