Things That Matter

His Family Begged ICE To Keep Him On Life Support Until They Could Say Goodbye But The Agency Didn’t Listen

Though much of the nation’s attention has focused on the plight of migrants crammed into overcrowded Customs and Border Protection facilities along the southern border, Abienwi’s case highlights concerns over the immigration detention system in the interior of the U.S.

ICE detains more than 52,000 migrants a day in a sprawling network of 225 detention centers and jails spread throughout the country. Government watchdogs have highlighted problems in those facilities, including nooses found in cells, detainees on hunger strikes and substandard medical care.

Abienwi is the ninth migrant to die in ICE custody over the past year, according to ICE data. His family and supporters said they want to know how that could’ve happened to a healthy man who had no medical problems before his confinement in the USA

An asylum-seeking migrant detained by ICE was pulled off life support after his relatives said they requested that doctors continue the lifesaving measures.

ICE said Nebane Abienwi, a father of six, died Oct. 1 after being detained at San Diego’s Otay Mesa Detention Center following a “medical emergency.” Since then, his relatives have reportedly been unable to obtain all the information about his death they have requested and his brother has twice been denied a visa to travel overseas to identify the body and bring it home.

His relatives say the move transpired despite their requests that life support be continued, according to USA Today.

“We did not approve” Abienwi’s removal from a ventilator, his brother Akongnwi, who requested he be identified only by his last name, told USA Today. “One hundred percent, we did not.”

More than a month later, the man’s body remains in the USA.

His relatives said they have been given little information about his death, and his brother has twice been denied a visa to travel to the USA to identify the body and accompany it back home to Cameroon.

Ever since, Abienwi’s youngest brother said he has been scrambling between U.S. embassies in South Africa and Cameroon, pleading for a visa to travel to California to get some answers.

He said he wants to make sure it’s really his brother’s body and to perform cultural rites on the body before the casket is sealed. He wants to know why doctors removed the ventilator that kept his brother breathing after he asked them to keep it in place until a relative could arrive.

Abienwi died after becoming critically ill while in ICE custody and was placed on a ventilator.

Akongnwi, speaking from a hotel room in Cameroon on Monday, said he spoke by phone with ICE officials several times Sept. 30, when they first called to say his brother had become critically ill and was on a ventilator. He said the ICE officials passed the phone to Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center officials, who explained that his brother was bleeding profusely in his brain and a ventilator was the only thing keeping him breathing.

Akongnwi said he shared the information with his brother’s wife and others in the family, and they all agreed Abienwi should be maintained on life support until a relative could be by his side.

“The family spoke and said, ‘We believe in miracles. It has happened to other families, why not ours?’ ” Akongnwi said. During the next call with ICE, “I made clear that he should remain like that and the family would decide if we want to take him off that machine or not.”

report released by ICE detailed what happened next.

On Oct. 1, at 12:05 p.m., two doctors analyzed Abienwi’s examination results, concluding they “were consistent with brain death and pronounced him dead.” Thirty minutes later, Abienwi’s family was notified, according to the report. Two hours later, hospital staff “discontinued Mr. Abienwi’s ventilator support,” the report said.

Akongnwi, who was in the process of submitting his passport information to U.S. officials and planning to fly to California, said he was never informed that his brother was taken off life support. He said he learned of that decision only when contacted by a reporter who shared ICE’s summary of the case.

“They said, ‘It’s very unfortunate, but your brother didn’t make it,’ ” he said. 

Sadly, this isn’t the first time this migrant detention center has been accused of substandard care.

The Otay Mesa facility, which is owned and operated by the private company CoreCivic, has been accused of not adequately addressing detainees’ health issues in the past. In February, more than 70 detainees in the facility signed a letter saying they had experienced racism and medical neglect at the facility.

The internal ICE report regarding Abienwi’s death shows that Abienwi, who’d already suffered from hypertension before being put in ICE custody, fell off his bunk bed on Sept. 26. After the fall, he appeared to be confused and sweating, and had difficulty moving his left arm and leg, the report says. Doctors initially concluded that he was fine, aside from having elevated blood pressure, but a subsequent exam found that he was suffering from internal bleeding.

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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

Smith Gado / Getty Images

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

Gerald Herbert / Getty Images

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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