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Report: Voices from Varick: Detainee Grievances at New York City’s Only Federal Immigration Detention Facility (2010)


Voices from Varick analyzes one year of grievances filed by immigration detainees housed in the Varick Federal Detention Facility. It documents detainee stories of inadequate medical care and mistreatment by the facility’s staff. It adds to the growing chorus of voices that have concluded that the federal government has failed in its responsibilities to provide adequate care to detainees housed in immigration facilities. This white paper provides a voice to detainees who are victims of the federal government’s failure to adequately manage the nation’s immigration detention system. It begins with an overview of the recent growth of immigration detention, and the simultaneous lack of enforceable regulations. It then provides the history of the Varick Federal Detention Facility, including its closure in 2001 after detailed accounts of problems in the facility, and reopening in 2008. Next, the report analyzes grievances filed by detainees held at Varick during the one-year period of Aug. 8, 2008 to Aug. 26, 2009. It includes stories of struggles in the detainees’ own voices. Key findings include:

  • There were 210 grievances filed by 176 different detainees, representing 186 unique complaints regarding the conditions of confinement at Varick.
  • Of the 210 grievances, 21 percent appear to have resulted in no resolution.
  • Thirteen grievances went before the Detainee Grievance Committee (DGC).
  • In seven of the 13 grievances (54 percent) that went before the DGC, the aggrieved detainee rejected the proposed resolution of the complaint. In three cases, the aggrieved detainee concurred with the outcome. And in three others, there is no indication of whether resolution was accepted or rejected.
  • In four of the seven DGC grievances (57 percent) where the detainee objected to the committee’s findings, the detainee who filed the grievance was transferred out of the facility. Once a detainee is transferred or deported, Varick ceases to investigate his grievances.
  • Seventy-one of the grievances complained of inadequate medical care (34 percent). Grievances involving a complaint of abusive treatment by staff were the second most common, consisting of 52 total grievances (25 percent). The third most common type of grievance concerned diet and consisted of 27 grievances (13 percent).
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