81 Year Old Asylum Seeker Dies in Custody

Human rights groups are calling for an investigation into the death of 81 year old minister Rev. Joseph Dantica, who died in federal custody while seeking asylum.

The Baptist minister fled Haiti to escape from danger and explained that he needed protection when he arrived at Miami International Airport on October 29, 2004. Instead of finding refuge, 81-year-old Dantica was put in an immigration jail by Department of Homeland Security officers. On November 3, 2004, the reverend died while in custody.

.....Eleanor Acer, Director of Human Rights First’s Asylum Program said, “The decision to detain this 81-year-old man was simply inhumane and his treatment should be investigated immediately.” Acer added, “The Department of Homeland Security – just like the INS before it – is totally mishandling the detention of asylum seekers. They have failed to make necessary reforms – and keep jailing ministers and other victims of persecution, instead of making fair decisions about the need for detention in each individual case.”

Homeland Security said the Reverend had a "pre-existing and fatal medical condition" and that the cause of death was pancreatitis. Dantico had traveled to Miami with his son Maxo after Rev. Dantico's church was burned down. When they arrived in Miami, officials separated them and refused to allow Dantico to keep his medicine. They wouldn't allow family members to visit him. Immigration officials may waive detention on humanitarian grounds. Why didn't they do so here?

"They took his medicine away in front of me. Some doctor came and said, `He can't have that,'" Maxo Dantica recounted. "I begged them not to take it and I tried to warn them he might collapse, he might die. And the doctor said, `So he'll die.' He said it like a joke, but the joke came true."

In addition, Maxo Dantica said Krome staff confiscated his own prescription medicine, which he takes to prevent seizures related to a brain injury from a gunshot 20 years ago.

Here's a report by Human Rights First on the detention of asylum seekers by Homeland Security.

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