ICE detainees protest as deaths mount

On Aug. 9, 98 detainees at the federal immigration detention center in San Pedro, California refused to return to Pod 5 in an act of peaceful protest for health and dignity in their living conditions. Over 100 police, immigration and Coast Guard officials responded with threats and aggression against the protesters, according to activists from the Los Angeles-based group Homies Unidos, which organized support for the detainees. Homies Unidos activists said Coast Guard snipers armed with M-16s were on the roof of the detention center and in boats surrounding the facility during the protest, and one detainee was beaten by guards. Detainees’ demands included adequate and nutritional meals; proper clothing; adequate medical treatment; respect and dignity; an end to persistent overcrowding; provision of necessary hygiene supplies; timely processing of their immigration cases; and recreation equipment to ensure mental and physical health. (Homies Unidos media alert, Aug. 12 & e-mail alert, Aug. 14)

The protest came not long after the July 20 death of transsexual detainee Victoria Arellano (whose legal name was Victor Arellano) at the San Pedro facility. Arellano, who had AIDS, was detained in May for entering the US illegally for a second time. During detention in San Pedro, attorneys said, she did not receive treatment for her medical conditions. As she vomited blood, fellow inmates cared for her in vain. She was eventually taken to a San Pedro hospital and died while shackled to a bed, an attorney for the family said.

Arellano’s was the first in a recent string of detainee deaths. Rosa Isela Contreras-Dominguez, a legal US resident from Mexico who was seven weeks pregnant, died about a week after entering ICE custody in El Paso, Texas on Aug. 1. She had been detained by ICE for deportation after serving an 18-month prison sentence for bringing marijuana into the US. Contreras was taken to an emergency room immediately after notifying medical staff that she suffered from blood clotting. Later, after complaining of pain in her leg, she was taken to a hospital, where she died.

Brazilian immigrant Edmar Alves Araujo died after being taken into federal custody on Aug. 7 in Rhode Island. His sister, Irene, said she tried to hand over his seizure medication to the police who detained him for a traffic violation in Woonsocket, but they refused to take it. ICE spokesperson Marc Raimondi said ICE officials called emergency medical technicians when Araujo showed signs of distress shortly after they detained him. (Washington Post, Aug. 15)

A mysterious illness killed two detainees and hospitalized two others at a detention center in Del Rio, Texas. The first detainee became ill in mid- to late July, according to Dr. Sandra Guerra-Cantu, regional medical director of the Texas Department of State Health Services, who is investigating. The privately operated 850-bed medium-security facility holds federal detainees for ICE and the US Marshals Service as well as local prisoners. One of the prisoners who died and both of those hospitalized were ICE detainees from Mexico or Honduras. No autopsy has yet been performed on either of the men who died. (San Antonio Express-News, Aug. 9)

On Aug. 11, some 300 immigrants at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington became ill from suspected food poisoning. About 180 detainees were treated for diarrhea, nausea and vomiting at the detention center’s clinic. (Seattle Times, Aug. 15)

Before the latest deaths, immigration officials acknowledged that at least 62 people had died in ICE custody since 2004. The Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security is investigating two detainee deaths, in New Mexico and Minnesota. In a report issued last December, the inspector general noted that four of the five immigration detention facilities it studied had “instances of non-compliance” regarding health care, “including timely initial and responsive medical care.” (WP, Aug. 15)

On June 13, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of immigrant detainees at San Diego Correctional Facility, charging that inadequate medical and mental health care have caused unnecessary suffering and, in several cases, avoidable death. The suit names ICE and the Division of Immigrant Health Services among the defendants. “We’ve been saying for a long time now that we have serious concerns about the medical care provided to individuals in detention,” said Tom Jawetz, a staff lawyer for the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “It’s been a closed system for far too long. People are going to continue to die unless changes are made,” Jawetz said. (WP, Aug. 15; ACLU press release, June 13) On June 27, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain information about the nature of the 62 deaths of immigrant detainees which ICE admits have taken place since 2004. (ACLU press release, June 27)

From Immigration News Briefs, Aug. 26

See our last post on the immigration crackdown.