DeBlasio urges probe of fed detention center

Photo courtesy Bill De Blasio
By Ivan Pereira

The city public advocate is joining several Queens elected officials in another call to the federal government to stop its association with a private group that has been running a controversial immigration detention center in southeast Queens.

Bill de Blasio, along with City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and U.S. Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last Thursday that criticized the U.S. Department of Justice for refusing to investigate the GEO Group, which runs 7,000 of 32,000 detention beds in the United States, including one in Springfield Gardens.

The company has been accused of treating its prisoners with several unjust practices, including long periods of solitary confinement.

“This is not complicated: Government should not do business with companies that violate basic human rights,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The GEO-run detention center, at 182-22 150th Ave., holds suspects accused of violating immigration policies, and for years nearby residents have protested and complained about its existence near their homes.

De Blasio noted that in 2004, 175 detainees at the Queens facility went on a hunger strike to protest their conditions and in 2009 two of the facility’s guards were convicted of covering up the beating of an inmate. The public advocate called on Holder to investigate the government’s contract with GEO in October, but he has not received any response.

Justice declined to comment about the letter to the attorney general and the GEO Group did not return requests for comment as of press time Tuesday.

While he waits on the federal government for a response and possible action, Dromm, who chairs the Council’s Immigration Committee, said he and his fellow City Hall colleagues will investigate GEO themselves.

The committee will hold a hearing on the issue Dec. 13 and he wants to get more support against the controversial contract between the feds and GEO.

“We must be fully committed to upholding and protecting basic human rights. I will continue to work with my colleagues in government to address any potential human rights violations that occur, especially in the City of New York,” the councilman said in a statement.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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