More than 40 immigrants detained at a New York facility are reportedly engaged in a hunger strike over frightening conditions at the location, including widespread racist abuses and intimidation by officers.
Notably, one officer repeatedly named in a civil rights complaint filed by organizations “appears to be affiliated with multiple ‘nazikommando’ email addresses.” The sheriff’s office that operates the Orange County Correctional Facility has already admitted ties to the white supremacist militia group Oath Keepers.
“The people detained in the Orange County jail are risking their lives to demand protection of their dignity and human rights,” said Envision Freedom Fund director of advocacy and policy Tania Mattos. “Holding the jail and ICE accountable for addressing immediate health and safety issues is the absolute minimum detained people are owed.”
The organizations said in a release that immigrants detained at OCCF have described “a culture of blatantly racist, dehumanizing treatment and an environment of deplorable conditions and access to medical care” that violate ICE’s own protocols. “They further describe a culture of fear, where immigrants are routinely retaliated against and placed in punitive isolation for speaking out and advocating for their rights.”
Black and Latino immigrants have said they’re singled out for abusive treatment, including “racist and anti-immigrant slurs.” Horrific—and not at all a surprise considering who runs the place.
“The sheriff’s office, which operates the facility, has publicly acknowledged former ties to the Oath Keepers, a group ‘known to be violent in carrying out extremist beliefs,” the complaint said. “Undersheriff Kenneth Jones, for example, has reportedly recognized that he was a member of the Oath Keepers in 2013 and 2014, but claims that he cut ties with the organization several years ago because it became extremist.” Became extremist? It literally formed in response to the election of a Black president, the Southern Poverty Law Center has previously noted.
The complaint also notes the extremist group was spewing anti-immigrant slurs when Jones was a member, including using the “invader” rhetoric popular among racist mass murderers. And even though Jones claims to have disowned the organization and its extremism, a number of officers named in the complaint are tied to racist social media activity even though the office claims to screen its employees.
“My experience living here has been one of racism and mistreatment,” a man detained at OCCF said. He’s being named only as “Andres” for fear of retaliation. He said officers have “a hatred for Hispanic and Black people,” saying they commonly get punished for no legitimate reason. “They harass us and put us in segregation. There is a group of officers that are especially racist, but all of the officers are responsible.”
Let’s not even entertain the notion that this might be a very unfortunate set of incidents isolated to one facility. Racists abuses within the U.S. immigration system in fact surged following the insurrectionist president’s inauguration. Detainees at a GEO Group-operated prison in southern California said at the time that guards taunted them with racist language like “fucking blacks” and “Haitian trash.” Look at Del Rio and you can see how Haitian people are treated right there in the open.
None of this even touches on the public health risks facing people in immigration detention. “The Omicron variant has spread through immigration detention like wildfire, with a record 14% of people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody testing positive for COVID-19 as of February 1, 2022,” Immigration Impact reports. “Felix,” another detained man, saying officials “don’t care about our lives here.”
“It’s really very ugly. People in the unit have COVID, and we’re all mixing together. You get one mask when you arrive at the jail, and that’s it. It’s not even a high-quality mask, like an N95—it’s a surgical mask. If they are only going to give us one mask, you’d think we’d at least get one of the more effective ones. There is no reason here. They don’t care about us.”
Envision Freedom Fund, Catholic Charities Community Services—Archdiocese of New York, For the Many, Freedom for Immigrants, New York University School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, and New York Lawyers for the Public are demanding a “remedial plan of action” from the Department forHomeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, including the release of immigrants from the site and removal of officers. Advocates have also pressed on the need for the Biden administration to take action addressing widespread abuses within the overall U.S. immigration system.
“From Orange County Jail to detention centers in the Deep South and at the southern border, ICE continues to terrorize immigrants in its facilities and out in our communities,” said Catholic Charities Community Services pro bono supervising attorney Sophia Genovese. “This lack of accountability for ICE’s abuses underscores the need to abolish immigration detention in New York state and across the country.” Read the full complaint here.
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