By Carlotta Mohamed
State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) is calling on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Department of Justice to end the indefinite detention of asylum seekers and other immigrants being held on administrative violations.
Weprin was joined by the New York Immigration Coalition, Legal Action Center, Chhaya CDC, affected family members and others at the ICE Varick Street Detention Facility — located at 201 Varick St. — last Friday.
Weprin, who visited and met with immigrant detainees at the Albany County Jail Sept. 17, shared details of several instances where undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers have been held for extended periods while awaiting court proceedings or additional instructions.
“Roughly 270 individuals, guilty of no felony, are being held at the Albany County Jail at the behest of ICE and the U.S. Department of Justice without being given concrete court dates or release dates,” said Weprin.
The federal government should expedite the cases, add more judges, provide hearings in Albany, or simply release the individuals, Weprin said.
“They feel terrible. They don’t know how long they’re going to be there,” Weprin said of the detained immigrants. “They have very limited contact with attorneys. In some cases they’re trying to get attorney’s, and not provided attorney’s… it’s really a fear of the unknown.”
While visiting the Albany County Jail, Weprin said the asylum seekers and other immigrant detainees are separated from their families.
The undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers came from countries such as India, China, different parts of Africa, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, according to Weprin.
The state assemblyman further added that the women detainees are being treated differently from the men inside the jail complex.
“They [women] can wear their own clothes. They’re not wearing prison uniforms and they’re not locked up in cells at night,” said Weprin. “They’re basically in a dormitory-type setting, and the men are locked up in cells wearing orange prison uniforms.”
When Weprin asked why the women were placed in the dormitory-type settings, he was told there “wasn’t enough room” to accommodate men in dormitory-site settings.
“They should have other types of detention facilities to keep these detainees and they should not be in jail cells and uniforms. They should be treated humanely,” said Weprin. “I do blame ICE and the federal government for doing this.”
According to Weprin, there are more immigrant detainees under the Trump Administration, as opposed to the Obama Administration, where there were minimal detainees held.
“If they haven’t been charged with any felonies, there’s no reason for them to be detained and separated from their families for an extended period of time,” said Weprin.
Weprin said the detainees would like to get out and stay in the United States, but others have been requesting to be deported back to their countries.
The assemblyman said he met with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and will plan to visit the facility again to see what can be done to help the detainees, in addition to asking the Senate putting pressure on the Trump Administration to end the policy.
“It seems [Trump] has no tolerance for any kind of immigration violation, but that doesn’t mean that these detainees should be treated as prisoners and criminals, and not just as detainees who are waiting for a hearing, waiting to be deported in either case,” said Weprin.
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha