“Despite well-documented evidence that ICE’s practice of transferring detained people worsened COVID-19 outbreaks within the receiving detention facilities and their surrounding communities, ICE has chosen to risk countless lives to maintain a cruel and unfair detention system that should not exist,” the release continued. But transfers also purposefully move detained immigrants far away from loved ones and attorneys, as is now the case for the estimated 35 detained people who have been moved to Mississippi.
City Limits reports that advocates got wind that something was up when immigrants at OCCF called them to tell them they were all being given COVID-19 tests. “Generally, in the past, that has been the pattern,” NYIFUP Deputy Attorney Sharone Kaufman said in the report. Envision Freedom Fund said in a statement that one caller said detained immigrants were “scared and angry that they keep us in the dark like our lives don’t matter.”
“We are appalled at ICE’s total lack of transparency and consistent determination to separate immigrants from their loved ones,” said Fund Tania Mattos, director of advocacy and policy at Envision Freedom Fund. “Rather than facing the public outcry to release those inside Orange County, ICE cowardly chose to work in the shadows of their unchecked power and transfer immigrant New Yorkers away from their support systems.”
Immigrants have previously described horrific abuses at OCCF, including multiple officers assaulting a man with “mental and cognitive disabilities” and “chronic suicidality.” Immigrants who dare to express their grievances are threatened with solitary confinement, which is torture. The civil rights complaint filed this past February states that violent officers screamed at detained immigrants that “if [you] don’t like being treated this way, [you] should go back to [your] countries.” Notably, one officer repeatedly named in the civil rights complaint “appears to be affiliated with multiple ‘nazikommando’ email addresses.” The sheriff’s office that operates the Orange County Correctional Facility, which contracts with the federal government to jail immigrants, has already admitted ties to the white supremacist militia group Oath Keepers. Dozens of immigrants at the facility had been engaged in a hunger strike over the conditions.
NYIFUP previously testified to New York City Council’s immigration committee that even though advocates were told by OCCF that vaccine access wasn’t an issue, people inside weren’t getting their shots. NYIFUP asked if it could take its client to an outside clinic, which ICE sometimes allows for other medical visits. But NYIFUP said ICE ignored the request “until news outlets began reporting on the outbreak at OCCF and the person was finally vaccinated.”
ICE has every ability to let immigrants fight their cases from their own homes and communities. Instead, it transfers them far away from their loved ones. Instead, it leaves people of color at the whim of officers who give themselves Nazi-inspired screennames. ICE detention is inherently dangerous.
“ICE has a history of weaponizing mass transfers in an attempt to squash organizing inside detention and sow fear in our communities, but we will not be silenced,” said Cynthia Galaz, Senior Policy Associate with Freedom for Immigrants. “People have a right to stay close to their loved ones, legal representation, and support networks. While we continue to call for the closure of the facility, we demand a just closure of the Orange County Jail so that people can safely reunite with their loved ones and communities.”
'I just want to get out of here': Immigrants testify on abusive conditions at New York facilities
Dozens of immigrants at a New York facility are on a hunger strike over racist mistreatment
Groups sue after ICE transfers detainees from facility set to stop holding immigrants