Immigrant Detention Deaths Increase Pressure for Reform

By Farrell, Michael B | The Christian Science Monitor, August 18, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Immigrant Detention Deaths Increase Pressure for Reform


Farrell, Michael B, The Christian Science Monitor


Monday's disclosure of 10 previously unreported deaths at immigrant detention centers highlights the need for reform at those facilities, say both immigrant rights groups and the government.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced the deaths that it apparently discovered during an in-depth review of agency records, which was prompted by a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

In total, 104 immigrants have died at federal detention centers since 2003.

The deaths revealed Monday were thought to have occurred between 2004 and 2007. The causes were not released.

"Medical care has been the chief concern," says Kevin Keenan, executive director for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. "There are no enforceable standards for medical care or anything else inside these facilities - there are guidelines but no way to enforce them."

While the Obama administration has announced plans to overhaul the 32,000-bed detention system that is spread out over 350 county jails, state prisons, and privately run facilities, it has rejected implementing legally enforceable standards at the centers.

Instead, the government will begin moving noncriminal detainees to smaller, less prison-like facilities and ensure that medical care meets federal guidelines, the administration says. Obama also said he'll place federal authorities at the country's largest detention centers to oversee detainee care.

The rapid growth in immigrant detention populations - which is about 30,000, according to Amnesty International - followed tougher post-9/11 immigration policy ordered by the Bush administration.

Immigration advocates say the rise in detainee populations led to neglect and poor conditions inside facilities.

In a March 2009 report on the detention centers, Amnesty International recommended that the administration should use detention as a last resort when determining an immigrant's status.

"Alternatives to detention programs have been shown to be effective and significantly less expensive than holding people in immigration detention in the United States. While the average cost of detaining an immigrant is $95 per person/per day, a study of supervised release conducted by the Vera Institute in New York yielded a 91 percent appearance rate at an estimated cost of just $12 per person per day," according to the Amnesty International report.

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