Lawsuit Comes After Repeated Refusals By DHS To Provide Expedient Access To Public Information
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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for refusing to turn over thousands of public documents in their possession detailing the deaths of immigration detainees held in U.S. custody.
The federal lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, comes after repeated rejections by DHS officials to requests by the ACLU for critical information about the deaths of dozens of people in immigration detention.
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring DHS to expedite the processing of the document request and conduct a reasonable search of the records in its possession in an effort to fully comply with the ACLU's requests.
"We know that the medical care provided in many immigration detention centers is grossly inadequate and has resulted in unnecessary suffering and death," said Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. "DHS must not be allowed to keep information about in-custody deaths secret. It is imperative that ICE be held publicly accountable when it fails to provide the health care mandated by the U.S. Constitution."
Deficient medical care is believed to be a leading cause of death in immigration detention, and is the number one complaint the ACLU has received from ICE detainees. The ACLU filed a lawsuit last year against the San Diego Correctional Facility (SDCF), an ICE facility run by Corrections Corporations of America, Inc. (CCA), the country's largest for-profit correctional services provider. In its lawsuit, the ACLU challenges flawed medical care policies and the denial of needed treatment by ICE and the Division of Immigration Health Services which has led to excruciating suffering and even death of numerous detainees at SDCF.
In its Freedom of Information Act request submitted to DHS last year, the ACLU requested information about whether ICE – or any independent monitoring agency – adequately tracks deaths of immigration detainees, who are often housed in county jails around the country alongside criminal detainees, or in one of numerous immigration detention facilities managed by private prison companies.
Past OIG reports to Congress have contained only vague and sporadic references to investigations into these deaths, and provide little useful information that would ensure the public that meaningful investigations are conducted into each death and that steps are being taken to guarantee that detainees receive necessary medical services before it is too late.
"Unless ICE exhibits full transparency by releasing all of the information that we have requested, we are left little choice but to believe that it has something to hide," Alexander said.
Attorneys on the case include Tom Jawetz of the ACLU National Prison Project, Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, New York-based attorneys Natalie N. Kuehler and Benjamin R. Walker and Washington-based attorneys Margaret K. Pfeiffer and Lee Ann Anderson McCall.
A copy of the ACLU lawsuit filed today can be found online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/detention/35774lgl20080625.html
A copy of the original FOIA request filed by the ACLU can be found online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/detention/30260res20070627.html
Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project can be found online at: www.aclu.org/prison/index.html