WASHINGTON - In the wake of three immigration detainee deaths over the last six months, Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) introduced legislation today to adopt humane and legally enforceable standards for immigration detention facilities. The need for Congress to pass such legislation is underscored by recent deaths of immigration detainees in Monroe, Louisiana, Farmville, Virginia and Central Falls, Rhode Island. This bill, H.R. 1215, Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act of 2009, provides basic protections for immigration detainees including access to medical care, phones, legal materials, and law libraries. It also ensures protections for unaccompanied children, sexual abuse victims, survivors of torture, families with children and other vulnerable populations.
"Unfortunately, the federal government has failed to exercise meaningful oversight of immigration detention facilities nationwide,' said Joanne Lin, ACLU legislative counsel. 'The ACLU regularly receives complaints from immigration detainees whose cries for medical care go unanswered. All too often, the ACLU learns of detainees who have died from both serious diseases such as cancer and mundane conditions such as bacterial infections when earlier intervention could have made a difference. Congresswoman Roybal-Allard's bill is necessary to introduce oversight and transparency into the immigration detention system.'
In recent years, the immigration detainee population has skyrocketed, now exceeding over 300,000 annually and approximately 30,000 daily. The explosion in immigration detention has been accompanied by growing numbers of immigration detainee deaths, numbering nearly 90 since the establishment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2002. Many of these deaths involved young detainees in their 20s and 30s, with U.S. citizen spouses and children.
The cases of ACLU clients Raymond Soeoth and Amadou Diouf, both of whom were immigration detainees, highlight the importance of this legislation as a safeguard against forcible drugging. Both detainees were forcibly injected with a combination of antipsychotic drugs even though neither had a history of mental illness. Soeoth, a Christian minister from Indonesia, sought political asylum in America based on religious persecution. Diouf, a native of Senegal married to a U.S. citizen, had a stay of deportation at the time he was drugged. After the ACLU of Southern California filed a lawsuit, the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) ended its policy of forcibly drugging deportees, but stopped short of issuing regulations that would have given the new policy the force of a strictly enforced law.
'This bill will help protect the heath and welfare of anyone imprisoned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement,' said Ahilan Arulanantham, director of immigrants' rights and national security for the ACLU of Southern California. 'If passed, this legislation should help ICE change its institutional culture and become more accountable, paving the way for the humane treatment of those in immigration detention.'