Amendment to Legislation Will Require Government Transparency and Accountability Regarding Immigrant Deaths in Custody

November 7, 2007 12:00 am

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Amendment to require reporting on immigrant deaths passed in a markup of ‘death in custody’ legislation

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Washington, DC – An amendment that requires officials to report deaths of detainees in local and state custody was passed today by the House Judiciary Committee. The amendment, offered by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and attached to H.R. 3971, the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2007, mandates transparency and accountability by state and local agencies of all immigration detainees who die in their custody. Since most Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees are held in state and local facilities, most of the deaths of immigrants in detention would have to be reported to the attorney general.

In the absence of this requirement, relatives of immigrants who died while in ICE custody and immigrant advocates have had to rely on word of mouth and media accounts regarding the number of deaths of immigrants in detention. An American Civil Liberties Union Freedom of Information Act request this summer seeking information about the number of immigrants who died while in ICE custody turned up 20 deaths the government said they knew about since 2004, while the New York Times uncovered 62 deaths, indicating inconsistent government record keeping of deaths in ICE custody. Since the New York Times article was published there have been at least four more media-reported deaths.

The Lofgren amendment will guarantee the deaths of most immigrants in detention are not swept under the rug, and that the appropriate authorities conduct the needed investigation and oversight. The American Civil Liberties Union will continue to work with allies in Congress to guarantee that all immigrant deaths in detention – not just in state and local facilities – are reported.

The following can be attributed to ACLU Legislative Consultant Max Sevillia:

“An agreement and a handshake are not enough to convince us more people won’t die in ICE custody. We need laws to hold ICE accountable, not more empty promises. Until the government learns exactly what’s happening behind the prison walls, we won’t have any reason to believe ICE has fixed its problems, and the deaths in detention will continue. Knowing of these deaths and the circumstances behind them is the first step to finding out how more deaths can be prevented.

“We are grasping in the dark trying to find out more about the deaths of immigrants in detention, and we are counting on Congress to turn on the lights. The ACLU applauds Representative Lofgren for holding hearings on the issue, and we hope the rest of Congress will follow her lead to see that this bill becomes law.”

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