Advocates Call for Release of Varick Detainees

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
February 1, 2010 12:00 am

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New York, NY – A broad coalition of 16 national and community groups, legal service providers, and advocacy organizations including the New York Civil Liberties Union urged the Department of Homeland Security to release immigrant detainees currently held at the Varick Federal Detention Facility and to provide reasonable alternatives to detention. The call for release comes in response to the recent announcement that the downtown Manhattan detention center would be closed and its roughly 300 detainees moved to a New Jersey county jail.

“The first question that the federal government should ask is not where people are being detained, but why people are being detained,” the organizations said in a statement to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Varick has been the subject of numerous complaints over the years concerning inhumane living conditions, indefinite detention, and detainees’ restricted access to legal services. The groups insisted that all detainees at Varick receive a prompt case-by-case review of their detention, particularly since many are legally eligible for release. They also argued that transferring detainees to facilities where they will encounter similarly unacceptable conditions and restricted access to their families and lawyers is not a solution to Varick’s problems.

“Transferring detainees from Varick to other facilities does nothing to address the well-documented problems associated with detention,” said Alina Das, supervising attorney of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at NYU School of Law and one of the signatories to the advocates’ statement. “It’s no secret that the detention system is broken, ineffective, and inhumane.”

Detention, advocates further claim, is prohibitively expensive: it costs the federal government approximately $1.7 billion a year, while alternatives to detention cost as little as $12 a day. Meanwhile, both immigrant families and the government take on additional financial burdens as noncitizens who remain in detention are unable to provide for their loved ones and contribute to the economy.

“Especially given the current budgetary crisis in our country, DHS is acting irresponsibly and recklessly by detaining people when they can be released,” said Manisha Vaze of Families for Freedom, another signatory to the statement. “Community-based alternatives are effective, significantly less expensive, and enable families to maintain stability while they pursue viable options to get or maintain status.”

Noncitizens who could be released from immigration custody and placed into alternatives to detention programs include those who qualify for Temporary Protected Status (including Haitians due to the recent earthquake), those who are entitled to bond determinations or lower bond amounts, and those who have faced prolonged detention.

These and other immigrants, Das said, should be released immediately. “Our community members should not bear the burden of DHS’ failure to overhaul the detention system.”

To read the full statement to Secretary Napolitano, visit:

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