Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Detainee Deaths Push Congress to Act

Today the House Judiciary Committee Immigration Subcommittee will question the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a hearing about problems with immigrant detainee medical care. "The Department of Homeland Security's denial and delay is leading to death and disability," House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) said. "It is time for answers, not excuses," said Conyers (Washington Post).

The hearing follows a series of news reports by the New York Times, Washington Post, 60 Minutes and PBS about immigration detention. Boubacar Bah, a 52-year old tailor from Guinea, detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center, lay unconscious for three days without any official informing his family. His story, reported in the New York Times, brought light to serious concerns about treatment in detention.

From January 2004-November 2007, 66 people died in immigration custody, according to a list obtained by the Times through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Detainee Basic Medical Care Act Introduced

This month House Immigration Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act (HR 5950) to require reporting of detainee deaths to the DHS and Congress and mandate standards of care. "The legislation will help guarantee that minimal standards of care are put in place," said Representative Lofgren. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a Senate companion version of the bill (S. 3005).

"Many of those in immigration custody are there for minor violations, many for administrative and paperwork related mistakes. Their detention should not be a death sentence," Lofgren said.

AFSC and Faith-Based Partners Take Action

"Our misguided national fervor to build more jails and incarcerate more individuals, even on the basis of immigration status alone, can only lead to more tragic deaths. We are in grave danger of a nationwide lack of recognition that every individual deserves to be treated with respect. We must reverse this trend before it is too late," wrote Amy Gottlieb, program director, AFSC Immigrant Rights Program in Newark in a letter to the New York Times.

Through its provision of legal services to detainees in New Jersey, leadership development, and support for families of people in detention, AFSC's Newark office has monitored the impact of immigration detention on communities. Members of those communities are bringing their stories to legislators, increasing awareness of the physical, psychological, and social costs of unjust detention.

AFSC has signed onto a national interfaith letter urging members of Congress to support the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act. The letter states, "The faith community is concerned about the government's increasing use of immigration detention and its harmful impact upon children, families and our communities...Our diverse faith backgrounds teach us that every human being must be treated with dignity and respect."