Revolution #183, November 15, 2009

Conditions in ICE Detention Centers... A Death Sentence For Over 100 Immigrants

The number of undocumented immigrants who are detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has tripled since 2001. This year ICE is on a pace to imprison approximately 440,000 immigrants. These are people held, in most cases, without criminal charges. They are overwhelmingly denied access to attorneys—or even telephones. They are transferred from prison to prison without notice or warning, making communication with attorneys, doctors, friends and family impossible. And all this is covered up, out of public sight –in private detention centers that provide filthy and unhealthy food, beatings, and criminally negligent medical care.

One hundred six people have died in these immigration detention centers since 2003. They were human beings, whose alleged violation of immigration rules became a torturous death sentence.

“No One Was Notified”

Boubacar Bah came to the U.S. on a tourist visa in 1998 and stayed on illegally, working 10-hour days, 6 days a week as a tailor. He sewed elaborate and beautiful gowns for a Manhattan boutique. He sent money back home to Guinea, West Africa, to support his sick mother, his family and to put his sons through school. On his return from a visit (approved by the INS) to his family, who he had not seen for eight years, he was stopped at the airport and told he could not re-enter the U.S. His green card application had been denied while he was out of the country. He was held in detention while friends and relatives frantically sought ways to reopen his application and assure his well-being.

Bah spent nine months trapped inside a detention facility in New Jersey. Then one day he was found unconscious on the floor of the bathroom of his dorm; he’d fallen and struck his head. After he came to he was shackled with the approval of the medical assistant on call. When he was heard screaming and howling, and vomited on the floor, he was thrown into solitary confinement. He was left there for over 13 hours without treatment. Eventually, after he was found unresponsive on the floor, lying in his own urine and “foamy brown vomitas was noted around the mouth,” an ambulance was called and he was rushed into emergency brain surgery. No one was notified: not Bah’s lawyer, his friends nor his family, until five days after this happened. Boubacar Bah lay in a coma for four months before dying.

• • •

Francisco Castaneda came here at age 10 with his mother who was fleeing the war in El Salvador, a war in which the government and death squads, funded and directed by the U.S., were responsible for over 100,000 deaths. He was picked up on drug possession, served four months and then put in line for deportation. He was 35 years old. While in detention Castaneda went untreated for cancerous lesions that developed on his penis. A doctor at the Otay Mesa detention facility where Castaneda was held thought the lesions might be cancerous and sought approval for a biopsy, but the Division of Immigration Health Services headquarters in Washington denied the procedure for 10 months. An outside oncologist told her that Castaneda should be hospitalized immediately for a biopsy, but the detention center refused because, they claimed, Castaneda was not in imminent danger of dying. He was released from detention without having received any treatment. Soon after his release his penis was amputated to prevent the cancer from spreading. He died a year later.

• • •

Rev. Joseph Dantica, the 81-year-old uncle of well known writer Edwidge Danticat, was fleeing a repressive Haitian regime set up in 2004 after the U.S.-sponsored coup that removed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Rev. Dantica escaped gang warfare and threats to his life in Haiti and fled to Miami. He had a valid multiple-entry visa, but when immigration officials at Miami International Airport asked how long he’d be staying in the United States, he explained that he would be killed if he returned to Haiti and that he wanted “temporary” asylum. He was immediately arrested and taken to Krome detention center, where his medication for high blood pressure and inflamed prostate was taken away. He died five days later.

Inhuman and Illegal

There are over a hundred more stories like these—people who have died due to neglect and brutality in ICE detention centers.

Beyond those killed in detention, over 400,000 people spend time in these horrific prisons each year. They come to the U.S. for all kinds of reasons… as refugees from political repression—often fleeing regimes put in power by, and in service of U.S. imperialism. Many are driven to cross the U.S. border to escape starvation, poverty and war that are a result of the workings of the capitalist-imperialist system. Others are professionals, experts, dissidents in their home countries, or just people who have come to this country in search of what they hoped would be freedom and a better life. Or they are seized at work, on the streets, or even at home, after living in this country for months, years, decades or even longer. And, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, some 90,000 unaccompanied minors are apprehended each year by U.S. immigration authorities, most of whom are immediately deported, with 10,000 detained.

What the U.S. does to undocumented immigrants in U.S. detention centers is cruel, inhuman, and illegal. Amnesty International’s report, “Jailed Without Justice,” charges that the U.S. policy of indiscriminately detaining undocumented immigrants is in fundamental violation of international humanitarian law. These immigrant detainees are deprived of even the most basic rights supposedly guaranteed to everyone who is in the United States.

And it is immoral. What kind of a system treats millions of people who are escaping the horrors of poverty, of starvation, of war and repression, or who just dream of a better life, as criminals to be hunted down and held in conditions so foul that they have led to death for some? And on an even more fundamental level, what kind of system is it that makes it impossible for people to live in their own countries, drives them here from around the world, and then subjects them to inhuman detention and even death when they arrive?

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