The New York Times reports on an extensive attempt by federal immigration authorities to cover up evidence of mistreatment of immigrants in custody, deflect scrutiny by the news media or prepare exculpatory public statements after gathering facts that pointed to substandard care or abuse. When the Times reported on immigrant deaths in custody in 2008, few facts were made available. But behind the scenes, it is now clear, the deaths had already generated thousands of pages of government documents, including scathing investigative reports that were kept under wraps, and a trail of confidential memos and BlackBerry messages that show officials stymied inquiries.
The documents, obtained over recent months by paper and the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act, concern most of the 107 deaths in detention counted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement since October 2003, after the agency was created within the Department of Homeland Security. The Obama administration has vowed to overhaul immigration detention, a haphazard network of privately run jails, federal centers and county cells where the government holds noncitizens while it tries to deport them.