Special Projects Fund

Grantee Name

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

Funding Area

Special Projects Fund

Publication Date

April 2021

Grant Amount


Grant Date:

October 2017 - August 2019

Each year, thousands of New York City residents are detained in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention jails.

Although not charged with criminal violations, they are primarily held to ensure that they attend future hearings concerning their immigration status. Most of these detainees are lawful permanent residents (predominantly green card holders) and people who have lived in this country for decades, maintained employment, raised families, and had access to health care in the community through Medicaid or private insurance. But detention breaks that connection, making them reliant on the immigration detention facility, a local county jail, and ICE for health care services, some of which fail to provide adequate medical treatment. Among the many barriers to quality health care faced by immigrants in detention are a lack of information on requesting assistance, denial of health and mental health services, and a lack of discharge planning.

NYHealth awarded New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) a grant to develop and launch a comprehensive program to ensure that immigrants with serious illnesses who are confined to detention facilities receive adequate health care services while in custody and access to health care upon their release.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

  • Developed a system to improve discharge planning and ensure continuity of care and Medicaid for eligible detainees upon release.
  • Conducted presentations on the program and access to health care in immigration detention to 339 medical providers, 176 legal service providers, and 332 community members.
  • Created a Medical Provider Network (MPN) steering committee comprising six doctor leaders and five mentors to conduct recruitment, training, and strategizing on processes and systems aimed at reaching more individuals in detention. The committee is an essential part of matching client cases to doctors.
  • Developed and expanded a volunteer MPN to ensure that detained immigrants had a doctor to evaluate and support their needs. To date, the MPN includes 188 trained and available medical providers in more than 25 medical specialties, including mental health providers.
  • Supported a client who spoke at a U.S. Senate briefing in June 2018; presented testimony at multiple New York City Council hearings on immigrant health, including raising awareness about the lack of access to health care in immigration detention.
  • Established medical-legal-community partnerships to advocate for improved detainee health care and release, partnering with organizations that included the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project’s legal providers (The Bronx Defenders, The Legal Aid Society, and Brooklyn Defender Services) and the Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem.
  • Worked to keep seriously ill immigrants out of detention entirely through advocacy efforts, partnerships, and trainings with medical providers, immigration legal service providers, and pro bono law firms. In 2020, NYLPI supported the release of 20 people from immigration detention and 19 from criminal custody in New York City-area jails.

NYHealth hosted a convening with NYLPI on the safety, rights, and health of immigrant detainees and published a letter to the editor in the Washington Post on violations found at immigrant detention centers. NYLPI released an updated report in April 2020, “Still Detained and Denied,” documenting serious, often life-threatening deficiencies in the medical care provided to New Yorkers in area immigration detention facilities. The report was featured in a story on NPR.

Co-Funding and Additional Funds Leveraged: N/A