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This is the growing problem: how is ICE handling the medical care of detainees?

Jennifer Williams
Deputy Attorney-in-Charge
Immigration Law Unit

In recent months, the conditions for detained immigrants at our southern border have gained national attention. Reports of families and children held in cold, cramped cages, with limited access to clean clothes, showers, or medical care have stoked a justifiable anger among concerned individuals across the country.

But the southern border is not the only place where immigrants are being held in objectionable conditions. Just look to New York City’s own backyard.

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In May it was reported that over 200 individuals who were arrested crossing the southern border would be moved to ICE detention in Orange, Hudson, and Bergen County Jails. Facilities across the tri-state area have already been pushing their capacity since President Trump entered office; Bergen County Jail was operating at 262% capacity as early as November 2017. This massive influx of immigrants into an already-overcrowded system has led to an unprecedented backlog of cases in the New York immigration court, forcing longer waits for those detained in these facilities.

Unfortunately, it is more than just overcrowding that detained immigrants have to worry about. Just last month, the Bergen County Jail had to order a quarantine because of a mumps outbreak. At least four units at the jail, each holding 50 people, are still currently affected, with at least six cases of mumps confirmed so far. The quarantine was expected to be lifted on July 8th, but was just extended to July 29th.  To make matters worse, reports of air conditioning failures have increased the threat of heat-related illness during this summer’s first heat wave. The cramped, hot conditions at the facility have left immigrants sweating in their beds without dry clothes or clean sheets, and create a fertile ground for the festering of infectious diseases.

As a member of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, or NYIFUP, The Legal Aid Society represents immigrants facing deportation. Our staff work closely with those being held in these terrible conditions. Not only are we fighting to keep them in the country, but now we are also fighting to improve the dangerous conditions they face while in detention. We give voice to vulnerable immigrants.