Deaths in ICE Custody: Security Requires Accountability, Not Just Flexibility

The government is obliged to treat the life-threatening medical conditions of its prisoners, including illegal immigrants who are held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Yet Homeland Security "has resisted efforts by the American Bar Association to turn [detention] standards into regulations, saying that rulemaking would reduce the agency's flexibility." This is the same agency that wanted the "flexibility" to fire, demote, and transfer its employees at will, without the civil service protections that safeguard against arbitrary employment decisions.

"Flexibility" is a code word for "freedom from oversight." In the detainee context, here's what the department's trumpeted flexibility brings:

The inspector general in the Department of Homeland Security recently announced a “special review” of two deaths, including that of a Korean woman at a privately run detention center in Albuquerque. Fellow detainees told a lawyer that the woman, Young Sook Kim, had pleaded for medical care for weeks, but received scant attention until her eyes yellowed and she stopped eating. Ms. Kim died of pancreatic cancer in federal custody on Sept. 11, 2005, a day after she was taken to a hospital.


Some of the sharpest criticism of the troubled system has come from officials at one of the largest detention centers in the country, York County Prison in Pennsylvania.

“The Department of Homeland Security has made it difficult, if not impossible, to meet the constitutional requirements of providing adequate health care to inmates that have a serious need for that care,” the York County Prison’s warden, Thomas Hogan, wrote in a court affidavit last year.

Abdoulai Sall, a mechanic with no criminal record, died in detention at the Piedmont Regional Jail in Virginia because he wasn't getting medication for his kidney ailment.

Fellow detainees described Mr. Sall huddling next to the unit dryer for warmth, barely able to walk. “The medical staff told him they don’t have what he needs because immigration don’t pay enough money,” one detainee wrote.

The jail claims that Sall received good care, but records reveal his complaints that he wasn't getting his medication despite his lawyer's pleas for medical intervention.

Since 2004, 62 detainees have died while languishing in ICE custody. It's time for flexibility to give way to accountability.

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    Yet another Gulag (none / 0) (#1)
    by koshembos on Tue Jun 26, 2007 at 10:45:05 AM EST
    The Republican party has resembled the Communist party for about 20 years now. It now started to adopt the Gulag system for immigrants, Guantanamo and secret prisons in Europe. If they will stay in power, American citizens will start to crowd Gulags.

    inhumanity (none / 0) (#2)
    by Joe Bob on Tue Jun 26, 2007 at 01:07:13 PM EST
    Whomever this refers to:

    "The medical staff told him they don't have what he needs because immigration don't pay enough money,"

    should lose their right to practice medicine. You don't stand around and watch a man die from a treatable illness because you don't have the right supplies on hand. Is it totally unreasonable to expect that a conscientious caregiver would take the inmate to an emergency room, call 911, or do something other than sit on their hands and blame the bureaucracy?

    the denominator (none / 0) (#3)
    by diogenes on Tue Jun 26, 2007 at 09:18:28 PM EST
    How many would have died if they were not in detention centers (i.e. if they were illegal aliens in society).  Probably more than sixty-two; illegal aliens don't usually have medical insurance and can't get medicaid.  Lots of people outside of detention centers, illegal aliens or not, can't afford medications and don't get generally futile operations for pancreatic cancer.  

    that's pretty weak (none / 0) (#5)
    by Joe Bob on Wed Jun 27, 2007 at 05:53:24 PM EST
    Well, they all would have died eventually; but at least they would have had the free will to deliver themselves to an emergency room or otherwise have their fate in their own hands.

    That's not really the point though. The detainees were at the mercy of their captors. You chose to focus on the woman with cancer who may have died soon no matter what.

    What about the guy who told the medical staff he required a particular medication...and they told him 'we don't get that here.' This person had a job and was getting meds somehow before he was detained. So, logic dictates that the [lack of] care he experienced in detention was inferior to what he was able to obtain on his own.

    If it's any consolation to you; I don't think good ol' American convicts experience anything much better.  


    A vivid example (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jen M on Wed Jun 27, 2007 at 05:07:14 AM EST
    of the famous american generosity