The New York Times has received a list of detainee deaths of immigrants under custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the three year period from 2004 to 2007. During that period there were 66 confirmed deaths, according to ICE’s data, which the Times notes is considerably sketchy. The title of the article, penned by Nina Bernstein, aptly describes the circumstances surrounding those deaths: “Few Details on Immigrants Who Died in Custody.” Left unanswered is how many more detainees were harmed by inadequate or non-existent medical care, never mind those harmed by physical abuse at the hands of guards.
Let this point be absolutely crystal clear: these people are not in detention because they are criminals or because they committed a criminal offense. Many of these detainees, merely over-stayed their visas, were denied entry or are seeking political asylum. As such, this is not a “dangerous” population. Quite the contrary, many of the inmates were leading productive lives with families and communities to support them. Given the current climate, however, the government sees fit to waste taxpayer money incarcerating people who have no business behind bars. As if the insult of incarcerating low-risk people were not enough, these detainees get shoddier treatment than hardened criminals and have less legal rights. Herein are some excerpts from The Times, excellent article:
Word spread quickly inside the windowless walls of the
But outside, for five days, no official notified the family of the detainee, Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old tailor from
Boubacar Bah, had overstayed a tourist visa… shackled and pinned …as he moaned and vomited, then left in a disciplinary cell for more than 13 hours
Mr. Bah’s name is one of 66 on a government list of deaths that occurred in immigration custody from January 2004 to November 2007, when nearly a million people passed through.
The list, compiled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after Congress demanded the information, and obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, is the fullest accounting to date of deaths in immigration detention, a patchwork of federal centers, county jails and privately run prisons that has become the nation’s fastest-growing form of incarceration.
The list has few details, and they are often unreliable, but it serves as a rough road map to previously unreported cases like Mr. Bah’s. And it reflects a reality that haunts grieving families like his: the difficulty of getting information about the fate of people taken into immigration custody, even when they die.
Mr. Bah’s relatives never saw the internal records labeled “proprietary information — not for distribution” by the Corrections Corporation of
Mr. Bah had lived in
Mr. Bah collapse near a toilet, hitting the back of his head on the floor… Physicians consulted later by The Times called this a textbook symptom of intracranial bleeding… He was handcuffed and placed in leg restraints on the floor with medical approval.
But he died in a sequestered system where questions about what had happened to him, or even his whereabouts, were met with silence.
….Some have no valid visa; some are legal residents, but have past criminal convictions; others are seeking asylum from persecution.
Death is a reality in any jail, and the medical neglect of inmates is a perennial issue. But far more than in the criminal justice system, immigration detainees and their families lack basic ways to get answers when things go wrong.
No government body is required to keep track of deaths and publicly report them. No independent inquiry is mandated. And often relatives who try to investigate the treatment of those who died say they are stymied by fear of immigration authorities, lack of access to lawyers, or sheer distance….
The Times, through an immigration lawyer who had received separate calls from two detainees; they were upset about a badly injured man — named “something like Aboubakar” — left in an isolation cell and later found near death.
But advocacy groups said they were unaware of the case. And Michael Gilhooly, the spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that without the man’s full name and eight-digit alien registration number, he could not check the information.
“Everybody liked Boubacar,” said Sadio Diallo, 48, who has a tailor shop in Flatbush,
For six years, Mr. Bah had worked for L’Impasse, a clothing store in the
Mr. Bah died on
There are 57 pages of documents, some neatly typed by medics, some scrawled by guards. Some quote detainees who said Mr. Bah was ailing for two days before his fall on Feb. 1, and asked in vain to see a doctor.
The records ... leave no doubt that guards, supervisors, government medical employees and federal immigration officers played a role in leaving him untreated, hour after hour, as he lapsed into a stupor.
It began about , according to the earliest report. Guards called a medical emergency after a detainee saw Mr. Bah collapse near a toilet, hitting the back of his head on the floor.He kept crying out, then “began to regurgitate on the floor of medical,” the report said. So Mr. Bah was written up for disobeying orders.
When he regained consciousness, Mr. Bah was taken to the medical unit, which is run by the federal Public Health Service. He became incoherent and agitated, reports said, pulling away from the doctor and grabbing at the unit staff. Physicians consulted later by The Times called this a textbook symptom of intracranial bleeding, but apparently no one recognized that at the time.
He was handcuffed and placed in leg restraints on the floor with medical approval, “to prevent injury,” a guard reported. “While on the floor the detainee began to yell in a foreign language and turn from side to side,” the guard wrote, and the medical staff deemed that “the screaming and resisting is behavior problems.”
With the approval of a physician assistant, Michael Chuley,.. was taken in shackles to a solitary confinement cell.
Mr. Bah was ordered to calm down. Instead, he kept crying out, then “began to regurgitate on the floor of medical,” the report said. So Mr. Bah was written up for disobeying orders. And with the approval of a physician assistant, Michael Chuley, who wrote that Mr. Bah’s fall was unwitnessed and “questionable,” the tailor was taken in shackles to a solitary confinement cell with instructions that he be monitored.
Under detention protocols, an officer videotaped Mr. Bah as he lay vomiting in the medical unit, but the camera’s battery failed, guards wrote, when they tried to tape his trip to cell No. 7.A supervisor removed Mr. Bah’s restraints. He was unresponsive ...a report said, adding: “The detainee set up in his bed and moan and he fell to his left side and hit his head on the bed rail.”
Inside the cell, a supervisor removed Mr. Bah’s restraints. He was unresponsive to questions asked by the Public Health Service officer on duty, a report said, adding: “The detainee set up in his bed and moan and he fell to his left side and hit his head on the bed rail.”
About , with the approval of the health officer and a federal immigration agent, the cell was locked.About , more than 14 hours after Mr. Bah’s fall, the same nurse, on rounds, recognized the gravity of his condition: “unresponsive on the floor incontinent with foamy brown vomitus noted around mouth.”
The watching began. As guards checked hourly, Mr. Bah appeared to be asleep on the concrete floor, snoring. But he could not be roused to eat lunch or dinner, and at , “he began to breathe heavily and started foaming slightly at the mouth,” a guard wrote. “I notified medical at this time.”
However, the nurse on duty rejected the guard’s request to come check, according to reports. And at , when the warden went to the medical unit to describe Mr. Bah’s condition, the nurse, Raymund Dela Pena, was not alarmed. “Detainee is likely exhibiting the same behavior as earlier in the day,” he wrote, adding that Mr. Bah would get a mental health exam in the morning.
About , more than 14 hours after Mr. Bah’s fall, the same nurse, on rounds, recognized the gravity of his condition: “unresponsive on the floor incontinent with foamy brown vomitus noted around mouth.” Smelling salts were tried. Mr. Bah was carried back to the medical unit on a stretcher.
Just before 11, someone at the jail called 911.When an ambulance left Mr. Bah at the hospital, brain scans showed he had a fractured skull and hemorrhages at all sides of his swelling brain.
When an ambulance left Mr. Bah at the hospital, brain scans showed he had a fractured skull and hemorrhages at all sides of his swelling brain. He was rushed to surgery, and the detention center was informed of the findings.
But in a report to their supervisors the next day, immigration officials at the center described Mr. Bah’s ailment as “brain aneurysms” — a diagnosis they corrected a week later to “hemorrhages,” without mentioning the skull fracture. After Mr. Bah’s death, they wrote that his hospitalization was “subsequent to a fall in the shower.”
Had this happened to an inmate doing time for a violent crime an inquest could be called for and guards and staff could be disciplined, even charged criminally. But because these people are mere detainees they merit little attention and enjoy few rights. How many more have suffered at the hands of incompetent or sadistic guards? You can be assured that the Federal Government will not give us an answer to that question.
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