ACLU Calls on Immigration Officials to Release Information About Immigrant Detention Deaths

June 27, 2007 12:00 am

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Deficient Medical Care May Be Leading Cause, ACLU Says


WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today to obtain information about the nature of 62 deaths of people in immigration detention since 2004. According to a New York Times article published yesterday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported 62 detainee deaths since 2004, but ICE refused to provide any details about the nature or causes of the deaths.

“We are deeply concerned about this shockingly high number of in-custody deaths in immigration detention,” said Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project, which has been investigating deaths in immigration detention. “It raises serious concerns about the quality of care provided by ICE to detainees in their custody, and it is imperative that information about these deaths be revealed to the public.”

The ACLU believes that deficient medical care for prisoners is a leading cause of death in immigration detention, based on complaints it has received from detainees and information about nearly 20 detainee deaths since 2004, including those featured in yesterday’s New York Times story. This month, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the San Diego Correctional Facility (SDCF), an ICE facility run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest for-profit correctional services provider. In its lawsuit, the ACLU challenged flawed medical care policies and the denial of needed treatment by the U.S. Public Health Service and the Division of Immigration Health Services resulting in the unnecessary suffering and deaths of numerous detainees at SDCF.

“We know people are suffering unnecessarily in ICE custody,” said Tom Jawetz, immigration detention staff attorney for the ACLU National Prison Project. “Deficient medical care seems to be a systemic problem, which is why we are trying to obtain more information about these deaths.”

In addition, the ACLU, in its filing today, is requesting information about whether ICE—or any independent monitoring agency—keeps track of the deaths of immigrant detainees, who are often housed in county jails around the country alongside criminal detainees, or in one of numerous crowded immigration detention facilities managed by private prison companies. The ACLU applauds the news that the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will be conducting a “special review” of two in-custody deaths, and urges the OIG to publicly release the findings of those reviews and make recommendations to ensure that preventable deaths are reduced and that all deaths are properly investigated by an independent government body.

In today’s FOIA request, the ACLU raises concerns about the oversight done previously by the OIG, stating:

The OIG releases semiannual reports to Congress that contain sporadic and vague references to investigations into in-custody deaths. Such reports provide little useful information to assure the public that meaningful investigations are conducted into each death, and that steps are taken to guarantee that detainees receive necessary medical services before it is too late.

“Absent transparency about these deaths in detention, we can assume that ICE has something to hide,” Jawetz said.

The FOIA request filed by the ACLU today is available online at:

The summary of deaths in immigration detention prepared for the United Nations Special Rapporteur, referenced in yesterday’s New York Times story, is available online at:

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