An attorney for the migrants claims that New York National Guard members stationed in Buffalo regularly took advantage of asylum-seekers.
A recently-filed lawsuit accuses the New York National Guard of perpetrating and facilitating the sexual exploitation of asylum-seekers in Buffalo-area hotels.
According to The Associated Press, the lawsuit was filed earlier today in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. It names defendants including the New York State Division of Military and Naval, at least six individual National Guard members, and several employees of DocGo, a private company hired to oversee migrants’ needs.
The complaint was filed on behalf of seven asylum-seekers—six of them women—and twelve current and former employees of subcontractor Platinum Community Care, the latter of whom reported the alleged abuse.
In court documents, attorneys describe the conditions asylum-seekers endured en-route to the United States, as well as the unexpected hardships they suffered after being sent to Buffalo.
“Jane Doe, who had journeyed through jungles with her children, evaded sexual traffickers in Mexico, and crossed rivers, suddenly found herself in a snow-covered rural property in America (where she was totally isolated) with her children, facing pressure from a member of the N.Y. National Guard for sex,” says the lawsuit, recounting the experience of a pseudonymous Venezuelan asylum-seeker.
National Guard members and DocGo staff were apparently seen “dancing intimately and romantically kissing guests” at hotels housing asylum-seekers.
In some cases, guardsmen also brought migrants back to another property hosting the New York National Guard, where they were allegedly coerced into sexual relations.
“The guests were (and remain) particularly vulnerable, given their uncertain immigration status, lack of mobility, need of basic supplies, and other needs,” the lawsuit says. “Even a trip to Walmart was considered a great gift.”
All of the asylum-seekers named as plaintiffs had initially traveled to New York City in 2023.
However, they were purportedly “deceived” into traveling to Buffalo, wherein they were placed in a filthy hotel with exposed electrical wires and damaged walls.
“The mattresses displayed deep stains and were infested with insects, leading to the children there being repeatedly bitten across their bodies,” the lawsuit claims.
WIVB-4 reports that “violence” was also common at the hotel.
In one incident, which allegedly occurred on November 9th of 2024, an asylum-seeker said that he was assaulted by a DocGo worker named Rigoberto Nunez, who attorneys say had a reputation for “openly harassing and physically assaulting guests.”
Nate McMurray, a lawyer for the asylum-seekers and subcontractors, suggested that his clients—along with other migrants—may have faced more obstacles than have already been reported.
“[DocGo was] given this huge contract with this huge responsibility and we can see what really happened,” McMurray said. “I think there are a lot of people who are negligent with regard to this facility, overseeing the facility, managing the problem.”
“What I’m really afraid of,” he said, “is [that] this might be the tip of the iceberg.”
McMurray stressed that, as hostile as some quarters of the American public might be to asylum-seekers, migrants are still entitled to legal protections against abuse and exploitation.
“They’re living in the same fear they were trying to escape,” he said. “We hear a lot about migrants being a threat or an invading army, but really, these are people who are very vulnerable.”
“And, if we are a nation of laws and rights,” McMurray said, “they deserve our protection.”
Neither DocGo nor the National Guard have admitted liability, with DocGo saying that it is “committed to ensuring the continued safety and well-being of everyone under our care” but “cannot disclose specifics.”
The New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs, for its part, said that any National Guard members who are found to have violated either its rules or the law could face serious consequences.
“If allegations are substantiated following an investigation, this can result in adverse administrative and/or disciplinary actions pursuant to regulation and New York State military law,” said National Guard spokesman Eric Durr. “Criminal activities are referred to law enforcement for appropriate action.”
The lawsuit seeks millions of dollars in damages from the defendants.