“Over the last several years, OCCF’s appalling conditions have been the subject of multiple complaints, lawsuits, and media reports,” reads the letter, noting that CRCL had investigated past episodes, “most disturbingly, the 2016 death of an individual in ICE custody at OCCF.”
“The reports that are coming out of Orange are consistent with numerous other reports from other detention facilities across the country,” said Chiraayu Gosrani, of the New York University School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. “What they really show is that these detention centers are fundamentally sites of human rights violations of the gravest order.”
A Feb. 17 letter to the CRCL and other divisions of the Department of Homeland Security detailed allegations of physical and retaliatory violence committed by corrections officers against immigrant detainees. It was signed by six organizations: Catholic Charities Community Services, Envision Freedom Fund, For the Many, Freedom for Immigrants, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and the NYU School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic.
The groups are calling for the release of all immigrant detainees “to their communities” and termination of ICE’s contract with the Orange County Correctional Facility, based on a record of systemic abuse.
In one episode from Feb. 5, the letter alleges that a detainee referred to as “L.G.C.,” “who has cognitive disabilities and suffers chronic suicidality, was thrown to the ground, kicked, beaten, and handcuffed by at least seven officers after an interaction” with an officer.
That followed an alleged incident from Jan. 1, as described by a detainee identified as “Andres.”
“It was six officers against one unarmed man. The officers jumped on him, hitting him. One of them was holding him down and another had his knee on the man’s neck. They pepper sprayed him and wouldn’t let him move. He was yelling for help. But we couldn’t do anything. We thought that if we said anything more, they would torture us as well…”
Gosrani said detainees were frequently subjected to racist taunts.
“We’re talking about folks being called the N-word, guards remarking that Africans have a certain kind of smell, being told ‘Go back to your f_____ country,’” he said.
In an affidavit, a detainee referred to as “Benjamin” said, “The officers at OCCF seem to have a racial hatred for Hispanic people. They don’t like when we speak in Spanish.”
He also said medical care was being withheld.
“I have been asking for help for over a week and haven’t heard anything. I feel really bad. Many of the men have complaints like this.”
The complaints over abuse – in addition to allegations of religious discrimination and the frequency of “spoiled, stinking food” – prompted dozens of detainees to conduct a hunger strike at the facility, the New York Daily News reported last week.
In his affidavit, detainee Benjamin said the hunger strike had resulted in retaliation: “After the incident, I was locked-in for five days as a punishment, just because they didn’t want to pay attention to our grievances. This made me feel like a criminal, but I’m not a criminal; I’m only here because of my immigration situation.”