ICE won’t say how many immigrants were vaccinated at New York’s largest detention center

After a lengthy legal battle over its handling of COVID-19 in detention centers, the ICE will not provide basic information on the number of inmates who have been vaccinated at its center in Buffalo (Batavia) in northern the state. Here’s what City Limits was able to find out.

Josh Denmark / DHS

The ICE Batavia-Buffalo Federal Detention Center in upstate New York.

As New York City experiences a new phase of the pandemic, in which people without masks meet and kiss both indoors and outdoors, the crisis still rages inside. some facilities housing immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Several detention centers across the country are see new peaks in COVID-19 cases, while vaccination rates have yet to take off among inmates.

Read our coverage of the coronavirus crisis in New York City.

While both nationally and locally, creative campaigns aim to increase the number of people getting vaccinated, to the point that New York has been touted as a vaccination hot spot for tourists– it is not known how many detainees at the ICE were shot. There is no publicly available tracer of state-level or national-level ICE vaccination efforts, although the agency is tracking COVID-19 case by establishment online.

May 13, at a meeting of Congress audienceICE Acting Director Tae Johnson said vaccine priority levels and allowances for immigrant inmates vary from state to state. He estimated that 20 percent of ICE inmates nationwide had at least one bullet, but wasn’t sure the exact number. “Let me confirm that this is the case,” Johnson told lawmakers. Rep. Laureen Underwood, of Illinois, countered that based on the data she had access to, the percentage could be much lower, potentially around just 7%. By comparison, more than 62% of the U.S. adult population received the first dose of the vaccine as of June 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Additionally, ICE declined to provide information on how many people held in New York State’s largest detention facility, Buffalo Federal Detention Center (Batavia), have been vaccinated. . Currently, more than 100 immigrants are detained in Buffalo, according to the ICE. City Limits was able to determine in part how the vaccination effort is going there – how many inmates received a dose of the vaccine or how many are fully vaccinated, or how many refused the vaccine in April.

A total of 118 cases of coronavirus have been reported inside Buffalo Detention Center since the pandemic began in 2020, including 49 in April 2020. In the past three weeks, ICE said it had had no positive COVID-19 cases at the facility.

An unclear picture

Advocates have called for greater surveillance for COVID-19 in immigration detention centers since the crisis erupted last year. During the first months of the pandemic, several inmates were transferred to the Buffalo Detention Center from Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, New Jersey, which reported the first positive case in late March.

In May 2020, the New York Civil Liberties Union and New York Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLSNY) won a federal class action lawsuit to have medically at-risk people at the Batavia center treated according to CDC guidelines. And in July of last year, City Limits reported that 12 inmates who tested positive for the coronavirus were transferred to their home countries from Buffalo Institution.

Public defenders had to sue again once vaccination began in New York to ensure access to the COVID-19 vaccine for incarcerated and inmates, a process that finally began in February. However, organizations such as NYCLU, PLSNY, and The Legal Aid Society still do not have detailed information on how the immunization process works at the Buffalo facility.

“I don’t have exact numbers,” says John Peng, an attorney for PLSNY, who in late March was tasked with finding and scheduling appointments for eight ICE inmates to receive Pfizer vaccine at medical centers. outside the Buffalo Detention Center. (This only happened once, as the authorities then began to vaccinate detainees inside the detention center itself.)

What is known is that as of April 14, before the CDC’s recommended break for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, 26 Buffalo inmates had received the J&J vaccine and 27 refused it. Of the eight inmates Peng helped receive the first dose of Pfizer, seven received the second (one of the first eight was released before receiving his second injection). Two other inmates received their first dose later and were due to receive the second dose in May.

In May, through a consent order, ICE was asked to continue providing vaccines to everyone arriving at the Buffalo detention center, as well as those who initially refused it. so that you can request it at another time. “This only applies to Buffalo,” Peng said over the phone.

The ICE says all inmates at the Buffalo detention center were offered the vaccine, as well as new arrivals, though they declined to provide details.

In New Jersey

In January, as the vaccination had just started inside the Hudson County Jail in New Jersey, City Limits reported that half of 54 ICE inmates had refused to be vaccinated, and only 27 had received the first dose of Moderna vaccine.

Since then, the population of the Hudson County Jail has been reduced to 42 ICE inmates. As of May 25, 28 of them were fully vaccinated and 14 had refused the vaccine.

Ron Edwards, director of the Hudson County Corrections and Rehabilitation Department, said via email that the vaccine is offered daily to people in custody and that for the past three weeks the facility has had no new case of COVID-19.

Advocates say there is mistrust on the part of inmates of receiving the vaccine in county detention centers or prisons, as well as the mistaken belief among some that if they are vaccinated it will reduce their chances. release.

“The vaccination has brought an additional layer of confusion,” Peng says.

A coalition of social organizations called the COVID-19 Coalition for Justice wrote a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo on May 19 asking for more information on how vaccination campaigns were being carried out, and stressed that he there was a “lack of transparency in the overall process,” the letter said.

The case of the Buffalo Federal Detention Center is a clear example.

Inmates, the letter says, “are wary of the correctional health care system and the care it provides. They have seen or received substandard medical care themselves and their medical concerns have been ignored. “

For example, lawyers representing people in detention centers say their clients sometimes do not have access to an interpreter or translation service during medical examinations.

Another concern that may not help immunization rates is that “there have also been high rates of vaccine refusal by correctional staff, who can spread their own fears to incarcerated people,” reads -on in the letter. Delaney Rohan, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society, says he knows two ICE inmates at Orange County Jail in New York City who have heard that a guard and a nurse will not receive the vaccine.

In addition, immigrant lawyers and advocates fear that the information shared with detainees about immunization is not enough for those in prison to make informed decisions.

At the Hudson County Jail, Edwards says ICE inmates receive the same information about the COVID-19 vaccine that the CDC and the New York and New Jersey health departments distribute to the public, and there has been no change on that front.


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Bernice Dyer

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