Yesterday, the NY Times published a fantastic article about the state of immigration detention centers and the need to investigate the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. Between January 2004 and November 2007, 66 detainees have died under questionable circumstances (this is more than have died at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo combined).
The piece mostly centers around the story of Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old immigrant from Guinea who overstayed his tourist visa and was living in the U.S.:
[F]or five days, no official notified [Bah’s family]. When frantic relatives located him at University Hospital in Newark on Feb. 5, 2007, he was in a coma after emergency surgery for a skull fracture and multiple brain hemorrhages. He died there four months later without ever waking up, leaving family members on two continents trying to find out why[…]
[Following a fall and disoriented behavior, Bah] was handcuffed and placed in leg restraints on the floor with medical approval, “to prevent injury,” a guard reported… Bah was ordered to calm down. Instead, he kept crying out, then “began to regurgitate on the floor of medical,” the report said. So Mr. Bah was written up for disobeying orders. And with the approval of a physician assistant, [Bah] was taken in shackles to a solitary confinement cell with instructions that he be monitored.
Under detention protocols, an officer videotaped Mr. Bah as he lay vomiting in the medical unit, but the camera’s battery failed, guards wrote, when they tried to tape his trip to cell No. 7.[…]
As guards checked hourly, Mr. Bah appeared to be asleep on the concrete floor, snoring. But he could not be roused to eat lunch or dinner, and at 7:10 p.m., “he began to breathe heavily and started foaming slightly at the mouth,” a guard wrote. “I notified medical at this time.”
However, the nurse on duty rejected the guard’s request to come check, according to reports. And at 8 p.m., when the warden went to the medical unit to describe Mr. Bah’s condition, the nurse, Raymund Dela Pena, was not alarmed. “Detainee is likely exhibiting the same behavior as earlier in the day,” he wrote, adding that Mr. Bah would get a mental health exam in the morning.
About 10:30 p.m., more than 14 hours after Mr. Bah’s fall, the same nurse, on rounds, recognized the gravity of his condition: “unresponsive on the floor incontinent with foamy brown vomitus noted around mouth.” Smelling salts were tried. Mr. Bah was carried back to the medical unit on a stretcher.
Problems persisting in U.S. prisons/prison health care have long been documented, but the problems for immigrant detainees are compounded by relatives’ fear of immigration officials, lack of access to people in positions to help, and distance (as many family members are still in their countries of origin and have no international resources).
The thought of people suffering this way (and the lack of accountability on the part of the ICE) just makes my blood boil.