Sunday, May 04, 2008

Families of Immigration Detainees Face Obstacles To Finding About Detainee Deaths

Nina Bernstein wrote an article in the May 5, 2008 New York Times on "Few Details on Immigrants Who Died in U.S. Custody," which discusses how difficult it is for families of immigration detainees to get basic answers about relatives who die in immigration detention.

Deaths will happen in any jail, but there is no requirement to track or publicly report detainee deaths. Congress demanded information about detainee deaths, which led to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) sharing a list of 66 people who died in immigration custody from January 2004 to November 2007, and which the New York Times obtained through a FOIA request.

In one case, for example, the family of a detainee in Elizabeth, New Jersey described the difficulties the family faced in finding out belatedly that their relative was in emergency care of a nearby hospital.

The newspaper article raises a topic that others are also concerned about. Although not mentioned in the New York Times article, there was a class action lawsuit (Woods v. Myers) filed against the San Diego Correctional Facility by the ACLU and Cooley Godward Kronish LLP in June 2007 alleging that inadequate medical and mental health care caused unnecessary suffering and avoidable death. The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law held a hearing on October 4, 2007 on Detention and Removal: Immigration Detainee Medical Care. The written testimony of Gary Mead (assistant director for Detention & Removal for ICE) discusses the type of medical care that ICE aims to be provided, but does not go into detail about what level of care is legally required. Tom Jawetz of the ACLU National Prison Project submitted written testimony that urged Congress to codify binding immigration detention standards, fix deficiencies in ICE's medical care package, and require ICE to report publicly deaths of detainees in its custody.