Immigrants sue Homeland Security

On March 17, the Heartland Alliance’s Midwest Immigrant & Human Rights Center (MIHRC) filed a federal lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to obtain public information about detained immigrants and asylum seekers. MIHRC sued DHS after the government repeatedly failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for information on compliance with detention standards, medical policies, and the names and locations of detention facilities contracted by DHS.

MIHRC represents several detained asylum seekers who have experienced substandard detention conditions and poor treatment while in DHS custody. MIHRC director Mary Meg McCarthy noted that the American Bar Association has produced several studies of DHS’s compliance with detention standards, but its members were only allowed access to jails and detainees on condition of secrecy. “We believe that the secrecy must end,” said McCarthy. (MIHRC press release, March 17)

Family Sues Over Detainee Suicide

The family of Algerian woman Hassiba Belbachir–who killed herself on March 17, 2005, while detained by ICE at the McHenry County Jail, west of Chicago–filed a federal lawsuit on March 14 in US District Court in Chicago. The suit charges that jail officials knew Belbachir had health problems, spoke no English, had severe depression and was suicidal, yet did not do enough to prevent her from strangling herself with a pair of jail-issue socks that had been knotted together.

The suit names the county; Sheriff Keith Nygren; Corrections Chief Tom Svoboda; Centegra Health System, which at the time of the incident had a contract with the county to provide medical services at the jail; and several corrections officers, nurses and a doctor. “We think that the woman’s death, while tragic, was not the result of any misconduct or failure to act on the part of anyone involved in the operations of the McHenry County Jail,” said First Assistant State’s Atty. Thomas Carroll. Carroll said the county switched its medical provider for the jail last year for reasons unrelated to the death. Janine Hoft, the lawyer representing Belbachir’s family, said the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Belbachir’s father and a brother who live in Algeria, a cousin in Chicago, a sister in Canada and two sisters and a brother in France. The lawsuit does not seek a specific amount in damages. (Chicago Tribune, March 16)

From Immigration News Briefs, March 25

See our last post on the immigrants’ rights struggle.