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
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
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