66 Deaths in Immigrant Prisons Signal Need to Shut Down ICE

May 6, 2008

The New York Times

This hugely important story by the New York Time’s Nina Bernstein, hands-down best immigration reporter in the U.S., is a must read. It tells the story of Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old tailor from Guinea who overstayed his tourist visa. According to Bernstein, who secured documents about Bah and 65 other imimgrants who died under questionable circumstances in immigrant prisons run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and its subcontractors, Bah’s family did not know what was happening to until his

“… 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.

Bah’s is but one of the 66 stories of individuals who died in immigration custody between January 2004 to November 2007.

66, more than the number of those who died while in custody at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo -combined.

In addition to the tragedy gripping the families of these victims, this report sends an unmistakable signal to the immigrant rights community: the dehumanization of immigrants has reached deadly institutional levels. Such high levels of death among detained migrants prove that the “Stop the raids!” slogans and calls for reform are of limited value.

Some of us need to raise the ante beyond the important but ultimately reformist calls to improve conditions in the jails; Some of us need to call for Congress to shut down the factory of death and dehumanization: the ICE. This latest proof of the damage wrought by the exponential growth of official and extra-official dehumanization of migrants joins the destruction already wrought by the most militarized branch of the federal government besides the Pentagon, ICE: thousands of raids, militarization of immigration policy, hyper-profits wrought by its military-prison industrial subcontractors, thousands of DEAD in the desert (many more than the 1000 conservative estimate reported in the article)

Thousands of dead.

Thousands of dead.

Yes, I said thousands of dead.

Rather than simply allow ICE to continue its big money PR campaigns to “humanize” its image, some might also consider the tactic of starting the ball rolling by temporarily closing ICE offices themselves. As I’ve suggested here and here, you don’t need 400,000 to 1 million marchers to close down an ICE office; As Salvadorans and their supporters proved when they used to close federal buildings and other facilities with a few hundred people in the 1980’s, all you need are enough citizens (no need to put the undocumented at risk and, those are, after all, our tax dollars paying for ICE and its subcontractor’s death factory running.) concerned about death and (tax) dollars. As the campaign to shut down the nefarious Hutto prison shows, taking the political offensive against ICE does have an effect.

The main point is to take the onus off of immigrants and put it where it belongs-on ICE, the agency that divides families, terrorizes entire communities and kills immigrants. Such an dangerous agency doesn’t need reform; It needs to be closed down. In the face of such catastrophic results wrought since the birth of ICE, closing them down marks the beginning of any “immigration reform” agenda.

2 Responses to “66 Deaths in Immigrant Prisons Signal Need to Shut Down ICE”

  1. NYS Says:

    Illegal immigrants are criminals, period. Thats why it’s called illegal. Controlling who and what comes into a country is key to its sovereignty. These people are breaking the law when they come here illegally. They don’t pay taxes, they essentially don’t have an identity. They can freely break American laws (and the worst that can happen is they get sent back to their country) and many actually do. They cause undo destruction on our economy and threaten to take jobs away from people who came here legally and whose great great grand parents came here legally and have been here for hundreds of years.

    Just because these idiots over-populated and overbred their own country doesn’t mean that we have to take them in like stray animals. They are not the responsibility of the people of the United States. They come here to drain our economy and our social policies, they commit crimes ranging from larceny to rape and murder. Defending them only shows what a fool you really are.

  2. yave begnet Says:

    Hmph. I think that first comment speaks for itself.

    My wife made a point this morning that I thought was good. She said the main obstacle in the immigration debate is ignorance. Most people don’t know much about the contours of the situation, and only know whatever bumper sticker message they have heard five times or so which is usually what restrictionist water-carriers have been repeating ad nauseam on cable and talk radio: “illegal means illegal,” “what part of illegal …,” “get a brain, morans,” etc. Once the issue is placed in context, once people realize these are real people dying, real families being ripped apart, and on what tenuous grounds this is all being justified, then their perspective often changes. My wife teaches college, and she sees this happen in her Media and Identity class when she does her class on immigration.

    Bernstein, Lawrence Downes, Julia Preston, and you, to name a few, are essential in getting the word out to educate people who won’t otherwise understand the terrible things that are happening. And yeah, this story coming after the Baichu piece (USCIS employee coercing sexual favors from green card applicants) shows Bernstein is breaking some incredible stories.

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