The document that follows, “Detainee Deaths 2004-November 2007,” is the government’s fullest account to date of deaths in immigration detention. Compiled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, it lists the names of 66 people who died, their dates of birth and death, where they were last held, where they died and the cause of death.
But errors and omissions on the list made it difficult for The Times to confirm the identities of many whose deaths had not previously come to public attention, to find out why they died, or to locate relatives.
Along with 13 deaths cited as suicides, 14 as the result of various cardiac ailments and 9 related to H.I.V. and AIDS, the list includes cryptic causes of death like “unresponsive” and “undetermined. ” The list does not mention the immigrants’ nationalities or where they lived in the United States. Some names and birth dates appear garbled.
Now none of this should be surprising. The fact that the deaths of immigrants in custody is likely undereported and documented and that when they are are documented they are done in a haphazard, half-assed way. After all isn’t part of the anti-immigrant rhetoric that as long as “they”, meaning the immigrants, are out of our country, not costing “us”, meaning the U.S. citizenry, money, then it’s all good.
There is a long U.S. history of the incarcerated dying inside of “unknown” causes or “suicides”, while not fully investigating these deaths, including the possibility that these deaths were caused by actions of those imprisoning them (included but not limited to, poor medical care and outright abuse and murder).
At the end of the article, the NYT asks the readership to submit information on any of the deaths listed (or not), putting the responsibility on the community, a community that in general has been purposely kept out of immigration detention centers, with those detained, many merely awaiting a hearing, denied visits from family, friends, community organizations and lawyers.
So where does the responsibility lie? Who will claim these people? Families who may be facing their own immigration issues? The government and private companies running these detention centers? Us?