At least 90 deaths in US immigration custody since 2003

Posted by admin on Apr 2nd, 2009

Original report:

New York Times, April 2 2009

The document that follows, “List of Detainee Deaths since October 2003,” is the government’s latest account of deaths in immigration detention, through Feb. 7, 2009. Compiled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, it lists the names of 90 people who died, their dates of birth and death, their nationality, where they died or were last held, whether an autopsy report or death certificate was secured, and the cause of death.

The chart updates the first government list of 66 names, also attached, which covered a period between Jan. 1, 2004, and November 2007. The new chart adds deaths that occurred before and since, and corrects some omissions.

Notably, it adds the Sept. 9, 2005, death of Tanveer Ahmad, also known as Ahmad Tanveer, 43, of Pakistan. Officials had maintained for months that no records of his death could be found, despite complaints that he had died after his severe and obvious symptoms of a heart attack went untreated for hours at the Monmouth County Correctional Institute, in Freehold, N.J.

New errors appear on the latest list, and it omits at least one known death from 2008: that of Ana Romero Rivera, 44, of El Salvador, found hanged in a cell at the Franklin County Jail in Frankfort, Ky., on Aug. 21. Ms. Romero, a cleaning woman, had been placed in isolation for not eating, according to local newspaper reports. Though she was being held for deportation, federal officials now disagree whether she was legally in immigration custody when she died.

The list no longer distinguishes between where the detainee was last held and where the death occurred. Sometimes it cites the hospital where a dying detainee was taken, but not the jail involved, and sometimes the reverse.

Some information has been changed without explanation. For example, the cause of death for Boubacar Bah, 52, who was held at the Corrections Corporation of America detention center in Elizabeth, N.J., previously was listed as “brain hemorrhage, fractured skull” and now reads “undetermined.”

The government has reported one more death since the list was issued, bringing the known total to 92: that of Roberto Martinez Medina, 39, of Mexico, who had been held at the Correction Corporation’s Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. He died March 11 at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, Ga., apparently of a heart attack.

There are more than 500 detention centers around the country, but one private operator, the Correction Corporation, had at least 18 deaths, including eight at its Eloy, Ariz., center alone, three of those since July 2008. The 18 Correction Corporation deaths include one in 2004 that the new list mistakenly places at the “Jefferson County jail.”

After correcting for such errors, The Times counted 32 of the 92 deaths at jails run by private companies; 37 of them at county or regional jails, and 20 at federally run detention centers. The remaining 3 deaths fall into other categories.

That breakdown differs from one provided at a March 3 House subcommittee hearing that cited only six deaths in private facilities. That low figure was based on a classification supplied by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which reflected who owned the jail building and the type of government contract in effect, not the operator.

Both lists sometimes obscure who was operating detention centers where people died, or even in which state a death occurred. A 2007 death first listed at the Otero County jail, in New Mexico, is now incorrectly placed at “El Paso SPC,” referring to a service processing center in Texas. The Otero County jail, where there was another death in 2008, is operated by Management and Training Corporation, a private company.

Of the 92 people who died in detention, 21 were from Cuba, 19 from Mexico, 6 each from Guatemala and Honduras, 5 from El Salvador, three each from Colombia, Haiti and Jamaica; two each from Ghana, Guinea, India, Korea and one each from 18 other countries, including Germany, Brazil, Afghanistan and the Philippines.

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