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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
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
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
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
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.
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