Letter From New York Queens CC BY 3.0 AAK

Despite Trump’s deportation machine and crisis over family separations, for-profit ICE jail in Queens goes overlooked

A for-profit jail being used for ICE detainees is openly operating in Queens, and nobody seems to care.

By Progress New York Staff

In a time when the messaging of some neoliberal politicians in Queens is converging with that of so,e progressive activists, by calling for an end to for-profit jails and for the abolition of the Federal Agency that is blamed for the deportation of undocumented Americans, the Queens Detention Facility, a 222-person capacity, for-profit jail complex in Jamaica, Queens, is going over-looked by leading political figures and key community groups.

Some Government reform activists point to the countenancing of an ICE facility in Queens as an example of how New York City is a paradox of progressivism. New York City can be, on the one hand, home to the rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a political upstart millennial, whose Congressional campaign pivoting off of the#AbolishICE movement unseated the fourth-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, and, on the other, still be home to a for-profit ICE detention facility. Even as Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) has described New York as a sanctuary city, nobody has challenged the Queens Detention Facility. In the past, it has also been noted how reform activists involved in a key #BlackLivesMatter case, the homicide of Eric Garner in New York City, were for years unable to lead to the removal of NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, whereas activists in Chicago, San Francisco, and Oakland had been able to force changes in police department leadership much sooner than in New York City. For reasons largely unexamined by activists or key nonprofit reform groups, police accountability in New York lagged second- and third-tier urban American cities. Similarly, whereas solidarity by #BlackLivesMatter and LGBTQ activists were able to ban the participation of uniformed police officers from the Pride Parade in Toronto, the LGBTQ community in New York City have been unable to replicate this low-bar success.

For this report, nobody at the Queens Detention Facility was immediately available to answer a press inquiry.

The Queens Detention Facility is nominally overseen by the U.S. Marshals Service, a unit of the U.S. Department of Justice, that transports detainees to and from the Queens Detention Facility for court appearances. Because a Federal law enforcement officials are involved, the Queens Detention Facility falls under the jurisdiction of the two Federal prosecutors’ offices in New York. Spokespeople for the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan declined to comment for this report. The relevant legal venue is the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, which has jurisdiction in Queens. Brooklyn Federal Court was ground zero in the legal battle against the first Muslim travel ban enacted by President Donald Trump (R) in 2017. A U.S. District Court judge ordered a stay of the deportation of individuals first taken into custody at John F. Kennedy Airport soon after President Trump’s swearing-in. The first Muslim travel ban unravelled, in part, because, in a rare display of legal integrity, lawyers with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn basically admitted that the law and the facts were not on their side, giving a key legal victory to the Yale Law School Clinic. (There was also once a time when at least one magistrate judge in Brooklyn Federal Court bucked against oppressive policies of, or overreach by, the Federal Government, like when U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein ruled against forcing Apple to pull data from a locked iPhone that the Government wanted to access, a ruling that was in keeping with a pattern of other justices keeping in check the Government’s access to cell phone data.)

In the other Federal prosecutors’ office in New York City, the one in Manhattan, a team of prosecutors concluded in recent years a civil rights investigation of Rikers Island, leading to a though examination of the jail complex that inspired civic leaders and groups to successfully press for its closure. Two of the largest umbrella groups were the #CloseRikers coälition and the Rikers Island closure commission. If it is not unexpected that both U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in New York City declined to answer press inquiries for this report, then it should be no surprise that the Legal Aid Society, a member of the #CloseRikers coälition, and the Rikers Island closure commission also refused to answer questions for this report, evidencing how widespread is the toleration of the Queens Detention Facility.

Closure of the Queens Detention Facility appears to also not be a priority for other reform groups, such as the the Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee and the Coälition to End Broken Windows, representatives for which also did not answer interview requests for this report.

Silence on For-Profit ICE facility in Queens by some key nonprofit groups

The Queens Detention Facility is owned and operated by GEO Group, a for-profit prison corporation that has attracted scrutiny for its human rights abuses, including at its Queens Detention Facility. According to online lobbying records of New York State, the GEO Group has employed Constantinople & Vallone Consulting LLC as a lobbying firm. The LGBT Network, a Long Island-based provider of social services to the LGBTQ community, has, in the past, also employed the same lobbying firm, showing that providers of public services to oppressed groups were overlooking the damage being done by their own outside consultants. Requests for comment were unanswered by each of the LGBT Network and David Kilmnick, its president and chief executive officer.

“I was disturbed to learn that the Queens Detention Facility owned and operated by for-profit GEO Group and the LGBT Network run by David Kilmnick are both clients of Constantinople & Vallone Consulting LLC, the firm run by Peter F. Vallone, Sr.,” said Pauline Park, chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA), adding, “As Speaker of the New York City Council, Vallone blocked legislation that would have prohibited discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression, and it was only when he was swept out of office by term limits at the end of 2001 that we could get the bill through the City Council ; while it is troubling enough that David Kilmnick would hire a notorious homophobe and transphobe like Peter Vallone as a consultant for a network of LGBT community centers, it is even more disturbing to learn of the connection with the notorious for-profit prison in Queens, however indirect the connection, given that the LGBT Network recently opened a community center in Queens. As executive director of Queens Pride House, I would have never hired Vallone’s firm, especially given the relationship with this detention center, which imprisons immigrants, some of whom may well be LGBT.” Ms. Park led the campaign for the transgender rights law enacted by the New York City Council in April 2002.

To some Government reform activists, one way that the Queens Detention Facility could be put on the social agenda would be to make its closure an issue in the much-speculated maneuvering to succeed Richard Brown (D-Queens) as District Attorney. By highlighting how politicians, like U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York), have supported a path for real estate investors to apply for U.S. citizenship, whilst undocumented Americans and their children, who have been being separated and housed away in detention centers, fade from the public consciousness, candidates to head the Queens District Attorney’s Office could be pressured to take a position on the Queens Detention Facility. Under the enhanced immigration scrutiny of the Trump era, two likely district attorney candidates have taken different approaches to avoid taking on the local jail. New York City Councilmember Rory Lancman (D-Jamaica Estates) in an editorial published shortly after President Trump was inaugurated, wrote that, “Mayor [Bill] de Blasio’s broken windows policing will now be the fuel for Donald Trump’s deportation machine.” Borough President Melinda Katz (D-Queens) published an editorial in which she promised that, “Queens will continue to do everything possible to help counteract the hostility of the current political climate.”

Again, New York City exhibits a duplicity in its progressivism, seemingly leading a national conversation to #AbolishICE, yet tolerating a for-profit ICE detention facility in Jamaica, Queens. Because key non-profit advocacy groups and some grassroots groups are unwilling to expend political capital to close the Queens Detention Facility in a sanctuary city, some Government reform activists are turning to electoral politics in the Queens District Attorney’s race to possible elevate the issue in the public consciousness.

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