National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


Dying on the Road to Deportation

June 05, 2008

Washington, DC - On Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 2:00 p.m., the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law will hold a hearing on "Problems with Immigration Detainee Medical Care." The following is a statement by Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a non-partisan, pro-immigrant advocacy group in Washington.

On June 27, 2006, Yusif Osman, an immigrant from Ghana, West Africa, died while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.  His death was one of 83 detainee deaths uncovered by the Washington Post in a recent series in just the first five years the agency has existed.  How many more workers and family members must die in the throes of our immigration system before we realize something is tragically wrong?  This is not who we are.

Denying basic medical attention, prescription medicines, and rudimentary health care to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who cycle through our federal and subcontracted immigration jails is a tragic but emblematic statement about the depths to which we have allowed our immigration system to fall.

When the Washington Post removed the veil of secrecy regarding the inhumane treatment of war veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center last year, heads rolled, people were fired, and the federal government offered a welcome but all too rare modicum of accountability.  Will there be accountability now that the Post, New York Times, CBS News, and others have revealed the horrid state of affairs facing immigrants in detention?

Given recent denials and obfuscations from the Department of Homeland Security, it seems unlikely that the Department leadership will hold themselves accountable for the mistreatment of immigrants in their care.  If the Administration will not act, Congressional oversight is necessary and timely.

The tragic state of affairs Congress now investigates, we hope, will spur the Administration to act to end the scandal in the immigration detention system.  In the bigger picture, however, this oversight hearing will illuminate a situation Congress must resolve by updating our immigration laws.  Allowing for more legal entry channels and addressing bureaucratic barriers to legality, citizenship and due process will alleviate the conditions in which officials believe they can deny immigrants basic dignity and care.

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