Civil liberties groups file class action lawsuit against Buffalo Federal Detention Facility

Mar 12, 2020

A federal class action lawsuit has been filed against Attorney General William Barr and other federal officials to halt what they contend are unconstitutional practices at bond hearings in the Buffalo and Batavia immigration courts.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and Equal Justice Under Law say hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been unfairly jailed because of the practices.

"The courts are placing the burden of proof on detained people, determining bond amounts without considering the ability to pay and refusing to consider alternatives to detention other than money bond," according to the suit.

The two civil rights organizations cite two immigration judges in particular, Philip Montante and Mary Baumgarten, who they say are denying bond across the board. The suit says between March 2019 and February 2020, the judges each ordered the person detained without bond 95% of the time, compared to a 61% nationwide average.

“It is time to bring justice to the countless immigrants being wrongfully detained with unfair bond procedures and unaffordable bond amounts," said Equal Justice Under Law Executive Director Phil Telfeyan. "Through this lawsuit, we aim to ensure these individuals receive a fair and just hearing, as guaranteed by the Constitution."

“This administration is determined to hold immigrants in detention indefinitely, at significant public expense, even when it is clearly contrary to the public interest," said NYCLU Staff Attorney Megan Sallomi.

The suit, Onosamba-Ohindo v. Barr, filed in U.S. District Court, says the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility, located in Batavia, ranks third in the country for refusing to grant bond among immigration courts with similar caseloads, granting bond only 20.9 percent of the time compared to 35 percent nationwide. The NYCLU also successfully sued the Batavia facility in 2017 on behalf of asylum seekers.

In a statement to the Buffalo News, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said individuals "may be detained for various reasons including, but not limited to pending criminal charges, public safety concerns, risk of flight as well as final orders and recent border crossers awaiting removal."