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Revised List of ICE Detainee Deaths Still Incomplete, Updated Again

At least 92 detainees died in immigration detention facilities between October 2003 and February 2009, according to an updated list compiled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The list, which was obtained by the New York Times in March 2009 following a Freedom of Information Act request, revises a previous ICE report of 66 detainee deaths between January 1, 2004 and November 2007. [See: PLN, Sept. 2008, p.30]. There are glaring inconsistencies between the two reports.

The more recent ICE list “adds the September 9, 2005 death of Tanveer Ahmad, also known as Ahmad Tanveer, 43, of Pakistan,” the Times reported. “Officials had maintained for months that no records of his death could be found, despite complaints that he had died after his severe and obvious symptoms of a heart attack went untreated for hours at the Monmouth County Correctional Institute in Freehold, New Jersey.”

Interestingly, the updated ICE list omits at least one previously-reported death. On August 21, 2008, Ana Romero Rivera was found hanging in a cell at the Franklin County Jail in Frankfort, Kentucky. Newspaper reports indicated that Rivera was being held for deportation, but “federal officials now disagree whether she was legally in immigration custody when she died.”

Even more troubling is the May 30, 2007 death of Boubacar Bah, 44, at a Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Previously listed as “brain hemorrhage, fractured skull,” Bah’s cause of death was changed to “undetermined” in the revised list of ICE detainee deaths.

According to a May 5, 2008 article in the Times, Bah had collapsed and injured his head at the Elizabeth facility. CCA guards placed him in segregation, then later took him to a hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. He lapsed into a coma and died four months later.

Internal CCA documents, which were labeled “proprietary information – not for distribution,” described how Bah was “shackled and pinned to the floor of the medical unit as he moaned and vomited, then left in a disciplinary cell for more than 13 hours, despite repeated notations that he was unresponsive and intermittently foaming at the mouth.”

While there are over 500 detention centers in the United States, one private contractor, CCA, has “had at least 18 deaths, including eight at its Eloy, Arizona center alone, three of those since July 2008. The 18 ... deaths include one in 2004 that the new [ICE] list mistakenly places at the ‘Jefferson County Jail,’” the Times reported.

In at least two cases, ICE officials found that deficient medical care at CCA’s Eloy Detention Center contributed to detainee deaths. Jose Lopez-Gregorio committed suicide at the Eloy facility on September 29, 2006, after a psychologist reduced his monitoring from suicide watch to cell checks every 15 minutes. ICE determined that Gregorio had filed a medical request that went unanswered, and was “not provided with proper care and treatment with regards to his physical examination or his request to be seen by medical staff while under their care and treatment.”

Another Eloy detainee, Mario Chavez-Torres, died on December 6, 2006 due to an “unwitnessed seizure”; he had filed a written request for medical treatment a week before his death, complaining of headaches, dizziness and vomiting. According to a special assessment report, ICE officials found “The facility has failed on multiple levels to perform basic supervision and provide for the safety and welfare of ICE detainees.”

In all, the Times reported that the updated list of ICE detainee deaths “counted 32 of the 92 deaths at jails run by private companies; 37 of them at county or regional jails; and 20 at federally run detention centers. The remaining 3 deaths fall into other categories.” The death of another detainee was reported in March 2009 after the revised list was released.

On August 17, 2009, the Obama administration added 11 more names to the list of deaths in ICE custody, and acknowledged that more than 1 in 10 detainee deaths had not been included in the updated list provided by ICE in March. The number of known deaths was increased to 104.

“Today’s announcement is a tragic confirmation of our worst fears. Our nation’s immigration detention system has been plagued by a total lack of transparency and accountability, and even with today’s announcement there is no way we can be fully confident that there are not still more deaths that somehow have gone unaccounted for,” said ACLU staff attorney David Shapiro.

This most recent discrepancy in reported detainee deaths came to light after the ACLU discovered one death that was not included in the earlier lists produced by ICE – the January 18, 2007 death of Felix Franklin Rodriguez-Torres, who died due to testicular cancer at CCA’s Eloy Detention Center. His cancer had reportedly gone undiagnosed and untreated at the facility for two months.

Sources: New York Times, ICE List of Detainee Deaths Since Oct. 2003

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