All Americans should be outraged by the Sunday New York Times report about how ICE officials schemed to cover up the deaths of detainees in detention. http://bit.ly/6p2xlX. The online edition includes a link to a horrifying video of an ICE detainee, Mr. Boubacar Bah, who, after mysteriously suffering a skull fracture, was handcuffed while writhing in agony on the floor in his own vomit, then locked-up in an isolation cell for 13 hours without medical treatment and, finally, transported to a hospital in a coma where he later died.
It would be one thing if death in ICE detention was a rare occurrence. But, unfortunately, it’s all too common. In a related article, also published Sunday, the Times reports about other ICE detainee deaths which were the result of substandard medical care and abuse. http://bit.ly/6gJlXu.
As I sat down to write this blog, I hoped to pen a stinging piece expressing my anger and calling for a full overhaul of ICE’s detention system, not just more press releases and empty promises. But the New York Times articles speak for themselves —107 people have died in ICE custody since 2003 (not counting the immigrants who were released shortly before death so they wouldn’t be added to the tally). Added to my anger is the revulsion that I feel toward an agency that is not only incompetent to care for those it locks up, but whose bureaucrats conspire to avoid paying detainees’ medical bills and hide from bad publicity, rather than attend to immigrants in their custody. It seems not one of the faceless ICE bureaucrats is ever called to answer for his or her transgressions. Indeed, participating in the abuse and neglect of ICE detainees may have resume value. Just ask Nina Dozoretz, who was the longtime manager of ICE’s Division of Immigration Health Services and Vice President of the Nakamoto Group, a company that, according to the Times, was hired by the Bush administration to monitor ICE detention. Dozoretz reportedly participated in the ICE conference calls where officials debated ways to avoid paying for Boubacar Bah’s medical care, and came up with a scheme to shift the costs to his indigent relatives before he died. Shockingly, she was recently hired by the Obama administration to overhaul the ICE detainee healthcare system (I guess I won’t hold my breath waiting for positive change I can believe in as it relates to ICE health care).
The abuse is not limited to ICE detainees who are unfortunate enough to become ill or injured while in custody. Last month Chris Crane, Vice President of the Detention and Removal Operations of the union representing approximately 7,200 ICE employees who work in detention and removal operations, testified before the U.S. Congress. He described the abuse faced by immigrants detained at facilities run by private contractors and seriously questioned ICE’s will to investigate and police the system.
Frankly, I have read enough articles about abuse and death in ICE detention. There can be no doubt that the system is corrupt to its core. Can you imagine if, instead, the Times had reported that an American had died in Iranian, North Korean, Cuban, or Syrian custody under similar circumstances? We would all be incensed. The Administration would call for heads to roll, impassioned speeches would thunder on the floor of Congress, and the blogs and media pundits would rage. But the cruelty described by the Times is homegrown. It is endemic to the ICE detention system and will continue unless something is done to stop it.
Several months ago homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE assistant secretary John Morton announced a review of the ICE detention operations with the stated goal of creating a “truly civil” detention system. In light of what we now know, that effort is too little, too late. The ICE detention system is a national disgrace, requiring President Obama to take immediate steps to protect the constitutional, civil, and human rights of ICE detainees, including,
- Suspending ICE’s detention authority by placing it in receivership with the Department of Justice pending a full investigation of the abuse and deaths in detention;
- Ordering a top to bottom review of ICE, in particular its detention and removal operations, with the goal of overhauling the agency so that the human rights of ICE detainees will be respected and the rule of law enforced; and
- Ordering the Department of Justice to commence appropriate civil and criminal investigations of all deaths in ICE detention and pursue all appropriate civil and criminal remedies.
We owe it to the families of the 107 people who died in ICE custody to see to it that the abuse, neglect, and deaths are stopped once and for all. Maybe then they will be able to take comfort in the fact that their loved ones did not die in vain.