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De Blasio blasts detention ctr.

Jose Quizhpilem (c.), of the nonprofit Make the Road NY, joins city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and other elected officials at a news conference protesting the federal detention center in Jamaica. Photo courtesy Bill de Blasio's office
TimesLedger Newspapers

The city public advocate is calling on the federal government to shut down the controversial immigration detention center in Springfield Gardens and rethink its partnership with the private organization that runs it.

Bill de Blasio and a host of other New York elected officials gathered in Manhattan last Thursday to protest the GEO Group, which runs the Queens Detention Facility, at 182-22 150th Ave., that is used for suspects who are arrested for immigration issues and awaiting trial.

The for-profit organization that runs 7,000 out of 32,000 immigration detention beds in the country has come under fire over the last couple of years for alleged abuses and mistreatment of their detainees.

In 2004, 175 detainees at the Queens Detention Facility went on a hunger strike to protest their deportations and the use of solitary confinement, and five years later two of the center’s prison guards were convicted of covering up the beating of an inmate, according to de Blasio.

“This isn’t how our country should treat immigrants — regardless of their status. We need a serious investigation into the charges leveled against this industry,” he said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Justice has had a contract with GEO for years, and the public advocate charged it of not having strong oversight. Representatives for the DOJ and GEO did not return phone calls for comment before press time Tuesday afternoon.

The DOJ and GEO did not respond to requests for comment.

De Blasio urged the federal government to end all GEO contracts immediately and conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations at its detention centers. He also called for an establishment of an “abuse-free zone” at the jails.

“Government should not be in business with any company that seeks to profit off of the mistreatment of human beings,” he said.

City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who chairs the Council Immigration Committee, agreed.

“In most instances when government privatizes services that government should be doing, it invites corruption,” he said in a statement. “The federal government should immediately act to stop GEO from operating [the] Immigration Services Center in Jamaica that has already had a detrimental effect on our community.”

The jail has been a huge problem for the community for years. Residents have held several rallies and elected officials say it has hurt their quality of life since it is located not too far people’s homes.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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