National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Blog & Updates

New Report: More Deaths in Detention, More Urgent Need for Reform

August 19, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas


In a post last month, we wrote about the indignation of immigrant advocates towards DHS’s management of the immigration detention system and stepped up enforcement (in the absence of real immigration reform). Today, we hear again about deteriorating detention conditions with new reports of immigrant detainees falling through the cracks of the system. The New York Times reports,


More than one in 10 deaths in immigration detention in the last six years have been overlooked and were omitted from an official list of detainee fatalities issued to Congress in March, the Obama administration said Monday.


The omission was discovered through a Freedom of Information Act request field by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which discovered that one of the detainee deaths had gone unreported by ICE. The findings were particularly disturbing for advocates who have raised concerns about the inadequate or sometimes non-existent monitoring and accountability of the immigration detention system.


"Today's announcement confirms our very worst fears," said David Shapiro, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the original request for a comprehensive list of the deaths. He criticized the government for running a system "devoid of transparency and accountability," adding that Monday's announcement raised questions about whether other deaths occurred.


"I think this is a case study on why they need to revamp their detention system," said Donald M. Kerwin Jr., vice president for programs at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, an independent think tank. "We don't really know whether their database actually even tracks this information."

Officials Say Detainee Fatalities Were Missed, August 17, 2009


It is clear that an overhaul of detention policy is needed to ensure the elimination of the egregious abuses that we’ve seen. Immigration laws also must be reformed so we can greatly reduce the cost in dollars and human lives we are wasting on detention.


We hope that Secretary Napolitano touches upon this important issue during her upcoming immigration meeting with advocates from labor, business, faith and the immigrant advocacy communities. We also hope that she will showcase her much-needed leadership — as the Administration’s point-person on immigration — to build public and legislative support to carry comprehensive immigration reform across the finish line.

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