DHS Announces 11 Previously Unreported Deaths In Immigration Detention

August 17, 2009 12:00 am

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Announcement Prompted By ACLU Lawsuit

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NEW YORK – Prompted by an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking previously unreleased documents related to the deaths of immigration detainees in U.S. custody, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials today revealed 11 deaths that have occurred at detention facilities since 2004 that the government had previously failed to publicly disclose.

In April, in response to the ACLU lawsuit which was filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), DHS officials released what they called a comprehensive list of all deaths in detention that included a total of 90 individuals. With today’s announcement, the government has now admitted to a total of 104 in-custody deaths since fiscal year 2003.

“Today’s announcement confirms our very worst fears,” said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “For too long, the system of detaining immigration detainees has been devoid of transparency and accountability. This forces us to question even further whether there are still more deaths that somehow have gone unaccounted for.”

The ACLU sued DHS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in June 2008 for failing to turn over thousands of public documents in their possession relating to the deaths of immigration detainees held in U.S. custody. The ACLU filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after repeated failures by DHS officials to release those documents in response to requests by the ACLU for critical information about the deaths of dozens of people in immigration detention.

In a FOIA request submitted by the ACLU to DHS in 2007, the ACLU sought 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.

OIG reports to Congress prior to the ACLU’s FOIA request contained only vague and sporadic references to investigations into these deaths. Additionally, the reports provided little useful information that would assure 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.

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 in 2007 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 suffering and even death of detainees at SDCF.

Attorneys working on ACLU’s FOIA litigation include David Shapiro of the ACLU National Prison Project, Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, New York-based attorneys Benjamin R. Walker and Margaret K. Winterkorn-Meikle and Washington-based attorneys Margaret K. Pfeiffer and Lee Ann Anderson McCall.

Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project is available online at: www.aclu.org/prison

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