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Immigration Dentention Facility Conditions are Un-American

Jody Kent,
National Prison Project
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July 9, 2007

Today the ACLU’s National Prison Project (NPP) will brief Congress on the state of immigration detention facilities operated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). This briefing follows on the heels of a Freedom of Information Act request the NPP filed seeking information about the deaths of the 62 detainees who died in ICE custody, according to an article in The New York Times.

Last Friday, The Washington Post decried the treatment of immigrant detainees in ICE custody, and called for stricter enforcement of detention standards established in 2000 by the Department of Justice and INS. We believe that deficient medical care for detainees is a leading cause of death in immigration detention, based on complaints from detainees, and information we’ve received about nearly 20 detainee deaths since 2004.

Last month, the NPP sued one such immigrant detention center: the San Diego Correctional Facility, charging inadequate medical and mental health care that has resulted in unnecessary suffering and, in several cases, avoidable death. These detainees are protected by the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits subjecting any person in the custody of the United States to unnecessary pain and suffering. Because these federally-funded detention centers hold civil immigrant detainees, not one of whom is serving a criminal sentence, the Fifth Amendment applies to protect their civil rights.

More than 200,000 immigrants are currently held in these facilities nationwide. Many of these detainees have fled persecution and torture in their home countries. Congress must ensure that detained immigrants receive treatment that reflects America’s fundamental values, and hold ICE accountable for the conditions inside these facilities.