Shocking New York Times Article Uncovers Efforts to Conceal Immigrant Deaths in Detention

By Guest Columnist Jan 11, 2010

This post originally appeared at

A New York Times article has revealed scathing information about grave abuses of power by immigration officials desperate to conceal the deaths and mistreatment of immigrants in detention. This includes covering up evidence of gross mistreatment, undercounting the number of detention deaths, discharging patients right before they die, and major efforts to avoid scrutiny from the news media.

The article states,

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 working to stymie outside inquiry.

In one case, it was found jail personnel had made a fake entry to show painkiller medication had been given to an inmate, when in actuality the log showed that the drug had been administered once the inmate had died, driven to suicide by unbearable pain. In another case, officials justified an inmates lengthy detention despite his poor medical condition by mischaracterizing his criminal record. Perhaps the most shocking example is that of Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old tailor from Guinea who suffered a head injury and was put into solitary confinement for 12 hours before an ambulance was called.The article says,

“In the agency’s confidential files was a jail video showing Mr. Bah face down in the medical unit, hands cuffed behind his back, just before medical personnel sent him to a disciplinary cell. The tape shows him crying out repeatedly in his native Fulani, ‘Help they are killing me!’”

The video, shot by detention officials as a policy when force is used on a detainee, was obtained along with thousands of documents on the 107 deaths in immigration custody, through Freedom of Information Acts filed by the New York Times and the ACLU. These documents clearly show how Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have covered up examples of abuse and neglect, withheld important information regarding detainee abuse and deaths, and desperately tried to deflect media scrutiny. Bah’s story was the basis for our End Homeland Guantamos campaign, where visitors assume the role of an undercover journalist doing an investigative series on what actually happened to Boubacar Bah.

Many, including the news media, advocacy groups and Members of Congress have been calling for reform in the immigration detention system. And while the Obama Administration has vowed to overhaul immigration detention, it seems somewhat meaningless unless there is a shift in the way the agency operates – away from an environment of secrecy to one government by enforceable standards and oversight. But the administration has rejected the idea of standards, arguing that “rule-making would be laborious, time-consuming and less flexible” than its own overhaul.

That’s why we need real public pressure. STOP THE SENSELESS DEATHS NOW by urging your Congressional members to support Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP) which provides secure alternatives and the codification of standards to ensure humane detention conditions.