A government list of deaths that occurred in immigration custody from January 2004 to November 2007, when nearly a million people passed through, includes 66 names, says the New York Times. The list, compiled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after Congress demanded the information, and obtained by the Times under the Freedom of Information Act, is the fullest accounting to date of deaths in immigration detention, a patchwork of federal centers, county jails and privately run prisons that has become the nation's fastest-growing form of incarceration.
The list has few details, and they are often unreliable, but it serves as a rough road map to previously unreported cases. It reflects a reality that haunts grieving families: the difficulty of getting information about the fate of people taken into immigration custody, even when they die. Death is a reality in any jail, and the medical neglect of inmates is a perennial issue. Far more than in the criminal justice system, immigration detainees and their families lack basic ways to get answers when things go wrong. No government body is required to keep track of deaths and report them. No independent inquiry is mandated. Relatives who try to investigate the treatment of those who died say they are stymied by fear of immigration authorities, lack of access to lawyers, or sheer distance.