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Another Needless Death in US Immigration Detention

Congress Should Refuse More Funding, Demand Oversight

In this April 13, 2009 file photo, detainees leave the the cafeteria at the Stewart Detention Facility immigration facility in Lumpkin, Georgia. © 2009 AP Photo/Kate Brumback, File

Another man has died in US custody at an abusive immigrant detention center. Pedro Arriago-Santoya’s heart stopped on Wednesday, making the 44-year-old Mexican the fourth person to die in the past two years at CoreCivic’s Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin. Official and media reports describe a facility plagued by unsanitary conditions and “harassment, foul language, and obstruction of religious practices by officers.”

As Congress considers funding requests for agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement, members should remember these deaths and the abuses that precede them.

The abhorrent conditions for detained children have rightly triggered public outrage; conditions in adult immigration detention have also been atrocious for years. Since March 2010, ICE has reported adult deaths in detention, including at least 26 people who have died during the Trump administration.

Many of these deaths were likely preventable. Human Rights Watch asked for an independent medical analysis of 15 recent deaths in immigration detention; in eight cases, subpar medical care contributed or led to the fatalities. The same is true for 23 of the 52 deaths in immigration detention for which we have such analysis since 2010.

ICE has dramatically expanded the number of people in its dangerous system, including particularly vulnerable people like children and pregnant women. Two weeks ago we heard heart-wrenching testimony to Congress from Yazmin Juárez on the slow and painful death of her 21-month-old baby after ICE failed to provide her with meaningful medical care or release them to seek treatment until it was too late.

For this fiscal year, Congress said ICE could not detain more than 48,424 people per day, but in July they were more than 4,000 over that average daily total. The administration has asked for US$2.7 billion for ICE detention alone in 2020, saying it aims to lock up 60,000 people per day. The money would include funds for 10,000 beds for family detention.

By locking up people who aren’t a flight risk or a threat to public safety, the US guarantees a ballooning, abusive, and expensive system, despite the existence of more cost-effective and humane alternatives to detention. Congress should refuse these additional funds and impose strict requirements for increased transparency and oversight.

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