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EXCLUSIVE: NY advocates denounce termination of free phone call program

  • / Updated:
  • Edwin Viera 

New York human-rights groups want a program providing detained immigrants 500 free minutes of phone calls restored.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement terminated the program after pandemic-era funds ran out.

Karim Golding, organizer for the nonprofit Freedom to Thrive, spent time in an ICE detention center for convictions which have since been overturned. He said mental health is important and having outside support is critical, which often means talking on the phone.

“Just imagine that a lot of folks are coming from different countries, don’t have the financial capability of paying for phone calls, especially with the harsh conditions in detention – and they can’t communicate that,” Golding explained. “They can’t reach out to their family members once this is gone.”

Golding pointed out another reason the program is ending is the increase in detainees means ICE cannot afford to increase the program’s budget. People detained in at least 16 facilities across the country report losing free phone minutes, including in New York locations: Orange County Jail and Batavia Service Processing Center.

Some are viewing the policy change as a way to isolate people.

Rosa Santana, interim co-executive director of the Envision Freedom Fund, noted the group has not received many phone calls for help with legal matters, bond issues or commissary services after the policy change. She said families struggle when one member is detained.

“Usually the person who is in detention is the breadwinner, and now families have to be able to figure out how they could bring food and everything that the breadwinner used to bring, pay rent,” Santana outlined. “On top of that now, it’s like having to pay for phone calls.”

Santana emphasized some families cannot visit loved ones more because detention centers are not always easy to get to. Detainees’ families often struggle to afford calls too, which can cost up to $3 for 15 minutes. Calls to attorneys and legal services are still free.

Categories: NewsNew York State