March 2010

Varick Street Detention Facility to Close by End of February

Set to close sometime around the end of February, the Varick Federal Detention Facility in lower Manhattan has become a source of controversy.  Immigration groups, along with Senator Chuck Schumer and members of New York’s Congressional delegation, have called for it to stay open; protests have been staged on the street outside; and rumors have circulated of a detainee hunger strike. Through this, the Justice Center, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (New York Chapter), and The Legal Aid Society, have continued to host a weekly legal clinic for detainees at the facility, and have also issued a joint statement calling for the facility to remain open.

All 300 detainees are scheduled to be moved to the Hudson Detention Center in New Jersey, about an hour away from the city. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has said it is closing the facility to allow detainees access to a facility with open-air space, which is non-existent in the Manhattan facility, as well as to reduce detention costs by nearly half.

Closing the facility would “raise serious due process and right-to-counsel questions of a constitutional nature,” said the joint statement, by taking a large number of detainees away from their pro bono counsel, hampering their abilities to collect evidence on their cases from their home communities, and making it even more difficult for family members to visit and provide emotional support. According to the Justice Center’s study of the facility, the majority of detainees are from the New York City area, and more than half have lived in the U.S. for over 10 years.

The Justice Center and the City Bar’s Committee on Immigration and Nationality Law both recently released reports urging mandatory assigned counsel for indigent immigrants being detained in the U.S.   The Justice Center’s report found that over one third of the detainees were found to have possible legal defenses to removal but almost none could afford to hire a private attorney.