Things That Matter

2020 Has Been A Tragic Year As A Record Number Of Migrants Die In ICE Custody

The news out of 2020 continues to devastate and it’s getting harder and harder to be shocked by just how horrible things are looking. However, the level of neglect inside ICE detention centers is so shocking that it’s leading to a record number of deaths. No matter what year it is, that is shocking.

It’s been 14 years, during the presidency of George Bush, since ICE detention centers have recorded the level of deaths that they’re recording this year. Despite warnings from health and immigration experts, ICE has largely refused to release immigrants from overcrowded cells despite an ongoing and out of control global health pandemic. This blatant disregard for life has had a huge impact as at least 18 people have died while in ICE detention centers so far this fiscal year.

ICE is responsible for the well-being of individuals in its custody and has broad discretion to release people for humanitarian reasons. The government should test everyone in its custody for COVID-19 and increase releases to prevent further deaths.

Three recent deaths in ICE detention centers bring 2020’s total to the second highest since 2006.

The death toll for immigrants in ICE custody reached the highest level since 2006 after three more people died this week.

Last week, it was reported that two men died while in ICE detention on August 5. One of the men who died last week was James Thomas Hill, a 72-year-old Canadian citizen who tested positive for COVID-19 about a month before his death. He was detained for three months at Farmville Detention Center in Virginia, despite being high-risk due to his age.

A 51-year-old man from Taiwan, Kuan Hui Lee, also died on August 5. Lee had been detained at Krome Detention Center in Florida for 7 months because he had overstayed a visa 16 years ago. While further details of his medical condition and death have not been reported, ICE has a long history of medical neglect of people in its custody with serious health conditions.

Then on August 11, Buzzfeed News reported that a 70-year-old Costa Rican man died in ICE custody at a Georgia Hospital on August 10, 2020, after testing positive for COVID-19. The man had been detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. According to AJC.com, the detainee suffered from diabetes and hypertension and had been hospitalized since August 4, 2020. ICE officials confirmed the death to BuzzFeed News, but have not released any additional details yet.

These tragedies increased the total deaths in ICE custody this fiscal year to 18, the highest number since 2006. Many—if not all—of the deaths that occur in ICE custody are avoidable.

“Many of these deaths were avoidable, unnecessary, and a direct result of the Trump administration’s refusal to take basic steps to protect the health and safety of detainees,” John Sandweg, a former ICE director during the Obama administration, told BuzzFeed News.

Many deaths have been attributed to Covid-19 but that’s not the complete picture.

Coronavirus has swept through ICE detention centers like wildfire and this has had a major impact on the health and welfare of detainees, the community, and even ICE employees.

So far this year, more than twice as many people have died in ICE custody over last year. And, unfortunately, there are at least 1,065 active Covid-19 cases in ICE detention centers, meaning more people are likely to get sick and die before the year ends.

The number of deaths is especially alarming considering the average number of people detained has been significantly lower this year than in recent years.

Farmville, an ICE detention center in Virgina, has the largest COVID-19 outbreak in immigration detention. As of August 6, over 97% of people held in this ICE facility had contracted COVID-19. The outbreak began as a super-spreader event caused by a transfer of 74 people from Florida and Arizona.

Advocates have consistently criticized ICE for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the people it detains.

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ICE Illegally Arrested A Man On Church Grounds After Allegedly Lying To Him To Coax Him Out

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ICE Illegally Arrested A Man On Church Grounds After Allegedly Lying To Him To Coax Him Out

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Across the country, dozens of undocumented immigrants have sought refuge at churches, where they are typically safe from immigration enforcement.

However, as ICE escalates its attacks on the immigrant community, churches and other sensitive places of refuge may no longer be the ‘safe spaces’ they once were.

ICE has allegedly arrested a man who was inside of a church and they lied to get him out.

Last week, six ICE agents entered an undocumented migrant’s home (located on church property) and now that man is in a Georgia detention center. Binsar Siahaan, 52 (from Indonesia), was told that there was a problem with the GPS monitor he had to wear and that they needed to take him to an ICE office in Silver Springs, MD.

“As soon as he stepped outside, they handcuffed him,” taking him first to Baltimore and then to Georgia. He was not given anything to eat for two days, Rev. Scroggins said through tears. She said, “He is being abused. He is not well,” adding, “The way he is being treated is absolutely appalling.”

Siahaan currently is being held in the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. and may be deported to his native Indonesia. He has been in the United States since 1989, coming here on a visa to work as a driver for the Indonesian Embassy. He overstayed the terms of the visa and then was denied asylum, because he did not apply on time.

But in Siahaan’s case, at the time they moved into the house on church grounds in January, they had no reason to fear ICE would come after them. They moved in to help take care of the church, which they have been attending for about six years.

Siahaan’s attorney and clergy at Glenmont United Methodist are rallying to stop Siahaan’s deportation, accusing ICE of breaching its own protocol by arresting him on church property under false pretenses and while his appeals are still pending.

The church where it happened is urging ICE to release the man – who is still in custody.

Leaders of the United Methodist Church – where the arrest occurred – have called for ICE to release Siahaan. They also called on ICE to state publically that it will uphold its policy of not entering sensitive locations, which includes “churches, synagogues, mosques or other institutions of worship, such as buildings rented for the purpose of religious services,” according to an ICE 2011 memorandum

“We are gravely concerned,” said Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, general secretary of the general board of the Church and Society of the United Methodist Church. “Church grounds are sacred.” She said the government was “in complicity to sin” if it won’t protect immigrants.

Rev. Kara Scroggins, pastor of the Glenmont church where Binsar has been a member for six years, called Siahaan “one of the most devoted, loyal and generous persons I know.” He helps out at the church constantly and usually is the first to arrive and the last to leave, she said.

This is hardly the first time ICE has conducted similar operations.

Credit: Smith Gado / Getty Images

An immigrant who sought refuge from deportation in a North Carolina church, staying there for 11 months, was arrested in 2018 after arriving at an appointment with immigration officials.

The arrest led to protests and the arrest of some supporters of Samuel Oliver-Bruno, the 47-year-old Mexican national who, according to an ICE news release, was detained at a Raleigh-area immigration office.

An advocacy group, Alerta Migratoria NC, said in a statement Oliver-Bruno went to have fingerprints taken so he could apply to stay in North Carolina with his wife and son. This is when ICE stopped in to make the arrest.

He had been living in CityWell United Methodist Church in Durham since late 2017, to avoid the reach of immigration officers, who generally avoid making arrests at churches and other sensitive locations.

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Court Says That ICE Needs To Follow The Constitution When Making Arrests And Here’s Why That’s Such A Big Deal

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Court Says That ICE Needs To Follow The Constitution When Making Arrests And Here’s Why That’s Such A Big Deal

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In what many are calling a landmark decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals just handed a major victory to migrant’s rights advocates. Although the major ruling seems simple on paper, it has major legal implications and could truly change the way that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrest undocumented immigrants.

However, the decision is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court – where it would face an uncertain legal future given the possible future makeup of the nation’s highest court.

The 9th Circuit Court just issued a landmark legal decision that could greatly affect ICE arrests.

Credit: Eric Risberg / Getty Images

Long-standing rules for arresting migrants may soon need to change, thanks to a recent ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court says that ICE needs to align its arresting and detention procedures with those of all other law enforcement agencies in the country, which are guided by rules within the U.S. constitution. When police arrest people for suspected crimes, the constitution requires them to show probable cause to a judge within 48 hours. But ICE does not do that. When ICE arrests people, it typically holds them for weeks before any judge evaluates whether ICE had a valid legal basis to make the arrest.

But ICE’s policies may no longer be legal.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the usual constitutional rules that apply to normal police all over the country also apply to ICE. “The Fourth Amendment requires a prompt probable cause determination by a neutral and detached magistrate,” the court said. This really shouldn’t be a big deal. Prompt independent review by a judge of whether the government has a legal basis to take away a person’s freedom is an essential safeguard against tyranny.

ICE’s arrest and detention policies have long come under scrutiny for seemingly skirting constitutional rules.

Credit: Joseph Sohm / Getty Images

For almost 200 years, immigration enforcement has existed in a sort of grey area, where the usual rules never applied. For example, when ICE arrests people, individual officers have much more legal discretion than other law enforcement authorities. Detainees may be held for weeks or months before going to a judge who will ask the person how they plead to ICE’s allegations against them.

Only then, long after the initial arrest, might ICE actually be required to show a judge any evidence to back up its case. The person would have spent all of that time detained, likely at a private detention center in a remote area.

For any other person in the U.S., this procedure goes against every legal protection in the constitution. But ICE has gotten away with treating immigrants this way for generations.

The ruling comes as other courts are making it easier for ICE to abuse migrant’s constitutional rights.

The ruling by the 9th Circuit comes less than a week after the 1st Circuit overturned a ban prohibiting ICE from arresting undocumented immigrants at courthouses in Massachusetts.

In 2018, ICE created a policy of attempting to arrest undocumented immigrants when they appeared at state courthouses for judicial proceedings. However, a district court granted an injunction against the policy after migrant advocates filed a lawsuit against ICE. They claimed that ICE was in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and lacked authority to make civil arrests at courts.

Meanwhile, ICE has resumed large-scale enforcement operations, announcing roughly 2,000 arrests over several weeks amid the Coronavirus pandemic. The 9th Circuit’s decision raises an obvious question: How many of those people were detained for more than 48 hours without a review by a judge?

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