Ten undocumented immigrants have died while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody this fiscal year, including three immigrants who died in a private detention facility in the span of only three months. In one New Jersey jail where an undocumented man essentially bled to death this past spring, 121 people filed medical grievances over a two-year period and “the jail took corrective action in fewer than 3 percent of those cases.” It’s a fact that ICE commits egregious crimes worthy of criminal prosecution. It’s a reason why, according to this devastating report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the agency is seeking to literally erase its history:
Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently asked the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA), which instructs federal agencies on how to maintain records, to approve its timetable for retaining or destroying records related to its detention operations. This may seem like a run-of-the-mill government request for record-keeping efficiency. It isn’t. An entire paper trail for a system rife with human rights and constitutional abuses is at stake.
ICE has asked for permission to begin routinely destroying 11 kinds of records, including those related to sexual assaults, solitary confinement and even deaths of people in its custody. Other records subject to destruction include alternatives to detention programs; regular detention monitoring reports, logs about the people detained in ICE facilities and communications from the public reporting detention abuses. ICE proposed various timelines for the destruction of these records ranging from 20 years for sexual assault and death records to three years for reports about solitary confinement.
For years, advocates and communities across the country have denounced human rights abuses in the detention system. Many of the records that ICE proposes for destruction offer proof of the mistreatment endured by people in detention. Given the Trump administration’s plans to increase the size and scope of the system substantially, it is all the more disturbing that the agency wants to reduce transparency and accountability.
“NARA has provisionally approved ICE’s proposal and its explanations for doing so are troubling,” states the ACLU. “In cases of sexual assault and death, for example, NARA states that these records ‘do not document significant actions of Federal officials.’” But in the case of the immigrant man who died in a New Jersey jail, relatives and advocates allege “his pleas for help were being ignored” and federal immigration officials neglected to inform the family for two days after he died. While the county revoked the security clearances of two members of the medical staff for “errors,” no one else was held accountable. And, if ICE gets its way, these kinds of records could be gone.
Daily Kos earlier this year:
Last week, Vincente Caceres-Maradiaga, a Honduran national, collapsed while playing soccer at the Adelanto Detention Facility, a privately operated federal prison operated by prison “profiteers” GEO Group. According to ICE, staff “issued a code blue and immediately began efforts to resuscitate” Caceres-Maradiaga, who was receiving treatment for both hypertension and an umbilical hernia while under detention. But Caceres-Maradiaga died while en route to the hospital, becoming the ninth person to die in ICE custody this year, and the third person in three months to die at Adelanto. According to Mother Jones, “since it opened in 2011, Adelanto has faced accusations of insufficient medical care and poor conditions”:
In March, Osmar Epifanio Gonzalez-Gadba, a Nicaraguan national, died six days after attempting suicide at Adelanto. Gonzalez-Gadba was found hanging in his cell and after efforts to resuscitate him, was transferred to a hospital and placed on life support. “He never regained consciousness.” The next month, Sergio Alonso Lopez, a Mexican national, died from internal bleeding after throwing up blood at Adelanto. And now, a third Adelanto detainee has died in as many months. What does it say about a facility when it has been able to go only two months this year without someone dying under their care?
Documenting abuses and crimes is a vital step in ultimately rehauling an unshackled and unhinged agency like ICE. And that’s precisely why it wants to stop it. The ACLU:
Keeping these documents available is necessary for the public to understand and fully evaluate the operation of a system that is notorious for inhumane and unconstitutional conditions affecting hundreds of thousands of people every year. Even 20 years is far too short for keeping the record of a death or sexual assault of an individual in government custody.
If the Trump administration has its way, the number of immigrants in detention will increase, detention conditions will deteriorate further and more people will be subjected to life-threatening circumstances and denied their most basic rights. ICE shouldn’t be allowed to purge important records and keep its operations out of the public eye.