Image by Daniel Radford

Batavia and its Contract with 

Akima Global Services

 

Buffalo Federal Detention Facility is an immigrant detention facility located at 4250 Federal Drive in Batavia, about 40 miles to the east of Buffalo, New York. The facility, which can hold up to 650 people, is government owned but many of the services are contracted out to Akima Global Services. The company has a $150 million, ten-year contract with ICE to provide food, transport, and security services. Batavia, as it is known, is thus part of the rapidly growing privatization of detention, what immigration scholars have termed the immigration industrial complex .

In other words, detention is part of the governmental attempt to cast immigrants as threats to national security. We can see this rhetoric on the Akima website, which describes its “detention management” services like this: 

 

 

Private companies are driven mainly by profit, which means the more people they can detain, the more money they make. These companies also enhance their profits by making detainees do much of the work and paying them just $1 a day.

Because it is private, and because ICE has always hid behind its liminal legal status, it is very hard to get access to a detention center. We talked to Ingrid and Xiomara to get a better sense of what it’s like being inside Batavia. 

Ingrid and the other women at the facility sleep two to four to a room without a door. Privacy is limited, and guards are able to take personal items away from detainees as they wish. In one interview, Ingrid describes how “here, we don’t have privacy even in the bedrooms because the bedrooms are open. The bedrooms are open, they are open to the outside… If we change, if we change clothes we have to go to the bathroom. Because there are no doors everything is open.” 

Ingrid also describes guards taking away her items of clothing for no apparent reason. “She left me only with the [shirt] I had on,” Ingrid narrates. Although she desperately needed to wash the shirt she was wearing, the guards refused to provide her with any additional shirts. When Ingrid was ultimately forced to wear a sweater purchased from the commissary in order to wash her shirt, the other women at the facility “mocked [Ingrid] because they saw [her] come out” wearing a commissary sweater.

The women detained at Batavia come from a variety of backgrounds. Ingrid is from El Salvador, her best friend Xiomara is from Honduras, and the other women at the facility come from Mexico, China, and various countries in Africa and Europe. Although there is a library at the center, all of the books there are in English. There are no activities, educational classes, or outdoor exercise offered.

Social dynamics among the women at the facility are often hostile, and guards exhibit clear favoritism based on English language speaking abilities. 

 

Guards often disrespect and intimidate Ingrid and Xiomara because the women don’t speak English. Often, there is no guard on duty who speaks Spanish well enough to communicate with them. When there are conflicts between the women, the guards take the side of the women who speak English, often resulting in punitive behavior toward Ingrid and Xiomara. Although the guards are contractually prohibited from harassing detainees, such behaviors happen often. For example, Xiomara says “We can’t exercise because it bothers them (the guards), we can’t watch television because it bothers them, we can’t do anything because it bothers them… We can’t do anything because they discriminate against us.” In another example, Xiomara tells us “There’s racism, there’s bullying and there’s discrimination. We’re being discriminated against, we’re being made fun of [by both guards and other detainees]. It is disrespectful.” To learn more about language discrimination within detention facilities, click here.

Despite the descrimination Ingrid and Xiomara experience frequently, guards are not punished. Although the facility is required to have a grievance reporting procedure, detainees are unaware of the institutional mechanisms to report violations. As such, the inhumane realities of immigrant detention and life at Batavia as experienced by Ingrid, Xiomara, and the other women at the facility go unheard and unchanged.  

 

At the Batavia Immigration Court, which processes people from all over New York state, only 20.9% of people who have been arrested are offered bond -- nationally, the median is 35%. When offered, bond in Batavia is significantly more expensive than in other courts -- Batavia’s median bond is $14,000, whereas the national median is $9,000. This practice is incredibly unfair, especially considering that 90% of detainees are civilly detained (meaning they have not been convicted of a crime). The refusal to offer bond hearings for most of the people detained at Batavia leads to incredibly long imprisonment. While Ingrid has been at the facility for two years, she knows of other women who have been held at Batavia for as long as four years. To learn about the history of immigrant detention in the United States, click here.

Batavia is the first stop in the detention process of just under two thirds of the detainees at the facility. Despite this, communication with the outside world and to families and attorneys is limited. Visitors are able to visit migrants for up to an hour during brief visitation windows that vary by day (COVID has put a temporary halt to in-person visits). These visits take place in small cubicles, with visitors separate from the detainees by a plexiglass window and conversation occurring through an often scratchy phone line. Detainees are able to place phone calls at a base cost of $3 that increase by the minute. With weekly wages of only $1, placing phone calls is highly inaccessible for many of Batavia’s detainees. Such a system leaves people feeling isolated, contributing to depression and hopelessness, and makes it difficult for individuals to communicate with lawyers and loved ones. Although Batavia provides a few tablets for individuals to video chat on, the limited number of tablets creates conflict over access to technology. Guards are of little help in equitably settling disagreements between the women, say Ingrid and Xiomara.

Batavia is required to provide basic goods and services to its detainees, but such provisions are often nonexistent or insufficient. The facility is required to serve three meals per 24 hour period, with at least two hot meals served daily. Ingrid describes the meals provided by Batavia to be very meager---at times, just a piece of bread and an apple. She describes a meal of bread and an apple. Ingrid and the other women usually save the food to supplement with the overpriced items they are able to purchase from the commissary. This includes “cheese, cream, and crackers, soups...seasoning...coffee, and sugar.” The women share two microwaves where they can cook. While Batavia is obligated to provide basic personal hygiene items including “water, soap, toilet paper, cups for water, feminine hygiene items, diapers, and wipes,” Ingrid describes needing to spend $1.75 on a bar of soap from the commissary since it is not provided to her. During the COVID 19 pandemic in particular, the lack of basic personal hygiene items indicates both indifference for the lives of Ingrid and the other detainees, and an utter disregard for their humanity. To learn more about the medical neglect that occurs in detention, click here. 

Lastly, the facility is required to conduct a medical and mental healthcare screening upon intake, to provide “adequate” medical staff proportionate to the population, and to make medical records available. Ingrid’s experiences in the facility and the stories of women detained alongside her indicate otherwise. Once, Ingrid went to see the psychologist as she was feeling so terrible that she was throwing up. She said, “I told the psychologist, I cannot take this any longer, and he said, you are depressed, I am going to send you to a psychiatrist so that she can give you a prescription for tranquilizers. But I don't want to take any drugs because I am not crazy, and I think if I take these drugs, I might get sick.” This substandard care is dehumanizing and serves to reinforce total control of the detention center instead of treating patients. To learn more about working conditions in detention, click here. 

By Kaitlyn Panczner, Maddie August, and Emma Gregoire

"AGS prides itself on total detention management solutions. Our team includes senior staff from agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); and former Chiefs of Detention at 1000+ bed Service Processing Centers. Our team has patrolled our borders, safely and securely transported detainees, provided protection and escort for federal judges and witnesses, provided thousands of meals a day to the military and supplied armed guards at military bases. Our experience and knowledgeable key personnel enables us to minimize risk and ensure compliance of all contract requirements. We also understand the nuances of federal, state, and local law enforcement and how they must work together throughout the process of detention management."

“Right now while we are telling you this, there is a person yelling that is saying f*cking b*tch, f*cking b*tch. She is always talking to us like this and the official won’t tell her to stop… [And why don’t the officials do anything?] Because the officials are with her, they do what she tells them… [And do they understand what the woman is saying?] Yes,because she says it in English.”