Rhode Island: detainee dies in ICE custody

Hiu Lui Ng died in the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at a Rhode Island hospital on Aug. 6, two days after his 34th birthday, from terminal cancer which had gone untreated for months. Ng had come to the US from Hong Kong at age 17 and had overstayed a student visa. In 2001, a notice ordering him to appear in immigration court was mistakenly sent to a nonexistent address, records show. Because Ng did not show up at the hearing, an immigration judge ordered him deported. Ng remained in the US, married a US citizen and had two US-born sons. He was detained on July 19, 2007, when he and his wife showed up at the immigration office for his green card interview. Since then he had been detained at a number of jails and detention centers in three New England states.

Ng had been complaining of excruciating back pain since April. In federal court affidavits, Ng’s lawyers said officials had refused to allow an independent medical evaluation and had denied Ng use of a wheelchair after he was too weak to stand, preventing him from visiting with his attorneys and family. On July 30, just a week before his death, guards at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, RI, dragged Ng from his bed, carried him in shackles to a car and drove him two hours to a federal facility in Hartford, Conn., where an immigration officer pressured him to withdraw all pending appeals of his case and accept deportation.

Officials have given no explanation for the trip. But Ng’s lawyers say it appeared to be an effort to prove that their client was faking illness, and possibly to thwart the habeas corpus petition they had filed in Rhode Island the day before, seeking his release for medical treatment. US District Judge William E. Smith, who heard that petition on July 31, did not make a ruling on the request but insisted that Ng get the care he needed. On Aug. 1, Ng was taken to a hospital, where doctors diagnosed the terminal cancer and fractured spine. He died five days later. (New York Times, Aug. 13; Providence Journal, Aug. 14)

In a phone interview on Aug. 13, Judge Smith said he was “frankly shocked and disturbed” about the circumstances surrounding Ng’s death as reported in an Aug. 13 New York Times article, which he said conflicted with what government officials told him during the hearing. Referring to a statement released on Aug. 13 by the warden at Wyatt Detention Facility—citing a preliminary autopsy that determined Ng died of “previously undiagnosed advanced stage cancer”—Smith said “that raises some really serious issues about the treatment and care of this person while he was detained, and I want to know more about that.” (PJ, Aug. 14)

From Immigration News Briefs, Aug. 16

See our last posts on the politics of immigration and the struggle in Rhode Island.