At least 22 immigrants have died in the custody of U.S. immigration enforcement in the two years since President Donald Trump took office. According to an investigative report from NBC News, it found that a number of deaths in U.S. detention centers included individuals from places like Vietnam and Mexico. The report comes out less than a month after two high profile deaths of immigrant children died under U.S. custody.
The report shows that some had been longtime legal residents and half were not yet 45 years old.
— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) January 7, 2019
While issues within U.S. detention centers predate President Trump, he’s expanded U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforcement priorities that include the arrest of and separation of many children from families. These new measures have put vulnerable immigrants at risk, especially younger groups of people. The 22 deaths in the past two years are among the 188 detainee deaths in ICE custody since 2003 when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed shortly after 9/11.
The 22 deaths include at least one transgender woman, Roxana Hernandez, who died within two weeks of being taken into U.S. custody.
Roxana Hernández, a 33-year-old transgender woman from Honduras who was seeking asylum in the U.S., has died in ICE custody. Roxana's is the fourth in-custody death for ICE for FY 2018.
— Tina Vasquez (@TheTinaVasquez) May 29, 2018
Hernandez had traveled from Honduras to the U.S.-Mexico border, where she sought asylum as part of a migrant caravan. Within two weeks in ICE custody, she was transported to four different immigration centers. She was transported from California to Arizona, then to Texas and lastly to New Mexico, where she was sent to the hospital and died shortly after. The death ws original blamed on lack of medical care for her HIV-positive diagnosis.
This past December, ICE released reports on six people who died in 2018 that included Hernandez. The report showed that Hernandez had been dehydrated, starving and feverish upon her death. An independent autopsy disputes the report and shows she likely died due to dehydration and that her body showed signs of “physical abuse.”
A request for the death reviews of all 22 who have passed away has not been completed by ICE. This has made it hard to completely analyze what’s going on at detention centers.
22 immigrants have died in Trump's detention centers over the past two years. Half were not even 45 years old. Is that Trump's deterrence strategy? https://t.co/8AqgrktadB Here's @HRW's report on the poor medical care in US immigration detention: https://t.co/KtCM71Mp7Q pic.twitter.com/IdC0zisDjR
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) January 7, 2019
During testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 20, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that “one death is too many,” and DHS detention centers have “some of the highest standards in the world.” Yet the new report reveals a detention system filled with multiple violations and problems. Just in the last year, the DHS Office of Inspector General issued three reports finding bad treatment and inadequate oversight in ICE detention centers.
One death was that of a legal resident, Huy Chi Tran, 47, who arrived from Vietnam in 1984. After ICE got Tran in May 2018 from an Arizona prison, where he was serving time for disorderly conduct, he died of a heart attack. ICE records revealed that Tran suffered from schizophrenia that may have contributed to his death.
“You’ll see someone who is clearly an asylum seeker who came into custody with a serious medical condition, whether a heart condition or otherwise, and you have to ask, ‘Why is this person in jail?'” said Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center told NBC. “There’s no reason for it.”
Under Trump, the population of the immigrant prison network has risen 30 percent over the average under Obama and twice that under George W. Bush.
22 immigrants died in ICE detention centers during the past 2 years. An analysis of dozens of govt reports, death reviews & audits of ICE detention centers reveals a system long riddled with problems https://t.co/sqAC7PKnUQ MT @lriordanseville @HRappleye @lehrennbc pic.twitter.com/hBbNIwpnnZ
— Health Literacy (@Hlth_Literacy) January 7, 2019
While the number of 22 remains below the peak of 32 deaths in 2004, the annual number of deaths, 10 in 2017 and 12 in 2018, has jumped under President Trump. During the Obama administration, the numbers rose and fell from 10 in 2008 to five in 2012. But deaths rose up to 12 in President Obama’s last full year in office, as the number of detainees grew. ICE held an average of about 42,000 people a day in it’s more than 200 detention centers, which was 30 percent more than under President Obama and double than President Bush.
The report shows that the rise in the number of detainees had more to do with the increase in ICE arrests across the U.S. than from actual people crossing the border. The shift in arrests and number of those detained has most likely attributed to these deaths.
If the Trump administration wants to continue making immigration one of its main priorities, they’re going to have to improve conditions in detention centers across the country. It’s going to have to start with better medical screenings of children and an increase in mental health checks on those incarcerated.