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NYT Investigation Finds Immigrant Deaths Hidden

Jan 11, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

A New York Times investigation has found serious problems with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), where 107 immigrants have died in detention since 2003.  Not only were many of the deaths the result of abuse and neglect, but ICE officials seemed more concerned with keeping the deaths under wraps than with making sure conditions and medical care at detention centers were in compliance with standards.

One of the most chilling examples of maltreatment of detainees and the culture of secrecy at ICE detailed by the Times involved an African immigrant who died in 2007.  He suffered a skull fracture while being detained at the privately run Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey. According to the Times, the man was left in an isolation cell without treatment for more than 13 hours before an ambulance was called.

What were ICE officials most concerned with while he lay there after emergency brain surgery? The cost of his care. According to the Times, 10 agency officials in Washington and Newark explored sending him to Guinea, or renewing his canceled work permit in hopes of tapping into Medicaid or disability benefits. Officials finally settled on a “humanitarian release” to relatives who said they were unable to care for him.  The man ultimately died before he was released.

Documents – including confidential memos, BlackBerry messages and emails – for The New York Times investigation were obtained by the paper and the American Civil Liberties Union through a Freedom of Information Request.   The investigation raises serious questions about the ability of ICE to oversee or reform itself.

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