Skip to main content

buffalo federal detention center

Immigrants detained at Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia sue contractor over $1-a-day work program

By Press Release

Press release:

KINGSTON – The Worker Justice Center of New York (WJCNY) has filed suit in New York’s Supreme Court against the private, for-profit company, Akima Global Services (AGS), for its exploitation of detained immigrants at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia.

Plaintiffs Bounam Phimasone and Dalila Yeend allege that, while detained, they were hired by AGS to perform manual labor in the facility. Instead of wages, AGS paid Phimasone and Yeend $1 per day in commissary credit, regardless of hours worked.

The lawsuit alleges that AGS’s practice of crediting detainees one dollar per day for many hours of labor violates the New York State Constitution and various provisions of the Labor Law, including minimum wage.

It also alleges that AGS unjustly enriched itself through this exploitative practice. AGS contracts with the federal government to operate the Buffalo Federal Detention Center and is paid a daily rate for each bed filled per day.

By requiring detainee-employees to perform essential functions at well below the legal minimum wage, AGS avoids hiring non-detained employees to work for fair market wages, thereby depressing the local economy and increasing its own profits.

Many of those detained in Batavia are held indefinitely, despite never having committed a crime. Yeend and Phimasone were released from detention in 2018 and 2019, respectively, and now reside legally in New York State.

“This practice of paying people one dollar per day is bordering on slavery," Yeend said. "For the total hours that I worked, it was pennies per hour. It’s basically free work. When I think that I was working for a for-profit company, it’s disgusting.”

Both AGS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have been repeatedly criticized for their treatment of immigrants at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center, including their failure to protect detainees from the spread of COVID-19.

According to Gloria Martinez, board co-chair of the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, the plaintiffs’ allegations are consistent with the experiences of others detained in Batavia.

“One of our members risked his life as a detention center essential worker being paid a dollar a day to clean the infirmary and the living quarters of those who contracted COVID,” Martinez said.

Jennifer Connor, executive director of the Buffalo-based Justice for Migrant Families further attests to the exploitative nature of AGS’s employment practices.

“During the COVID pandemic, people who are detained are given a small hotel sized bar of soap for a week and so must buy their own hygiene supplies from the company-owned commissary," Connor said.

"Working for $1 a day for commissary when commissary is required to make phone calls to lawyers and family, buy stamps to mail letters and important documents, buy extra food because the portions provided in Batavia are notoriously meager, is not a choice. This is coercion."

Plaintiffs are represented in the case by WJCNY attorneys Robert McCreanor, Maureen Hussain, Laura Revercomb, and Dan Getman (of counsel), with support from Borealis Philanthopy.

WJCNY is a not-for-profit organization with a mission to pursue justice for those denied human rights with a focus on agricultural and other low wage workers, through legal representation, community empowerment and advocacy for institutional change.

Detention Center director denies report detainees treated 'inhumane' when released from custody

By Howard B. Owens

When a detainee at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center is ordered released on bond by an immigration court judge, Immigration and Customs Enforcement must release the detainee at the time specified by the court, said Tom Feeley, field office director for ICE, overseeing New York State.

Feeley was responding to recent news reports that accused ICE of treating detainees inhumanely. 

When detainees are released, if they're able to pay for their own transportation, they are taken to the Trailways/Greyhound bus stop at 48 Deli Express on Park Road in Batavia. There is no bus shelter at that location and busses stop infrequently, but on a daily basis. 

"I don't know what people expect us to do," Feeley said. "We don't have the authority to hold them once they're bonded out."

A nonprofit online news site in Buffalo, the Investigative Post, first reported about detainees being released three days ago.

Matt Thompson has seen it happen over and over since he started working at the station four months ago.

“The way they treat them, I don’t agree with,” the 20-year Army veteran told Investigative Post. “They drop them off and they treat them like animals. They kick them out of the van, pretty much, and that’s it.”

Though the reporter said the Post tried to contact ICE for comment, Feeley said he is unaware of any such attempt. 

Once the story was out, Feeley issued the following statement through an ICE public information officer:

The suggestion that ICE would abandon people upon their release is unfounded and is a clear fabrication that takes away from the professionalism of the men and women that work at the facility. ICE detainees who are bonded out of custody at Batavia are transported to an area transportation hub at no cost. If they are unable to cover the costs of transportation to their final destination, the agency will cover the costs. Detainees are transported to the transportation hub consistent with existing route times and schedules. The agency routinely coordinates detainee releases with family members and attorneys.

When detention facility staff becomes aware that a detainee will be bonded out, they suggest the detainee contact family or friends to get a wire transfer of funds for transportation to their intended destination. If the detainee doesn't have that resource available, they ask the detainee to contact his or her attorney. If the detainee is truly indigent, ICE staff will transport the detainee to Rochester or Buffalo with enough money for a train ticket to an intended destination.

Feeley noted that ICE is working with taxpayer money and therefore can't responsibly transport detainees who have the funds for their own transportation to Rochester or Buffalo.  

He also said that ICE isn't responsible for a shelter at the bus stop, or lack of one. It would be up to one of the bus companies or the gas station to build a bus shelter, not ICE, he said.

All 49 detainees who tested positive for COVID-19 at detention center expected to be in 'recovered' category by Saturday

By Howard B. Owens

Genesee County's active case count for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 should go down dramatically on Saturday when all 49 detainees at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center who were placed in mandatory isolation are declared recovered.

Only three detainees have been symptomatic.  

"This is a huge win for us," said a source from the facility who spoke on the condition we not use his name because he's not authorized to speak in behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The source previously told The Batavian that staff at the center took an aggressive approach toward the novel coronavirus as soon as the pandemic became an issue. There is an ongoing effort to keep the facility sanitized including wiping down every door handle with bleach every hour.

It's possible three detainees, two from New York City and one from State Corrections, brought the disease into the facility, the source said previously.

If things go as expected, by Saturday there will be no positive COVID-19 cases at the center.

Ten days ago, The Batavian reported that only three of the 45 detainees who tested positive for COVID-19 were symptomatic. The next day, ICE added four more detainees to the positive list. None of the symptomatic detainees required hospitalization according to the source. There have been no more positive tests at the facility over the past week.

Previously: Source: Most detainees in Batavia immigration facility who tested positive for COVID-19 are asymptomatic

Authentically Local