The 22 immigrants who died in the nation’s sprawling network of detention centers over the past two years came to the United States from countries as far-flung as Vietnam, and as close as Mexico. Some had been longtime legal residents, arriving as refugees or students. Others were recent asylum seekers. Many were young — half were not yet 45 years old.
Roxana Hernandez was one. Hers was among the most high-profile of the deaths in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody during the Trump administration.
The 33-year-old transgender woman from Honduras arrived at the U.S. border seeking asylum as part of a migrant caravan. She died within two weeks of entering ICE custody. Hernandez’s death, along with the recent deaths of two young children held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, has brought renewed scrutiny to immigrants in the federal government’s custody.
But an NBC News review of dozens of government reports, death reviews and audits of ICE detention centers reveals a system long riddled with problems. Within the last year, the DHS Office of Inspector General has issued three reports finding poor treatment and spotty oversight in ICE facilities.
While the issues predate President Donald Trump, his administration has expanded ICE’s enforcement priorities. Advocates said the rollback of discretion as detention expands puts vulnerable immigrants at risk.
“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. “There’s no reason for it.”
Of course, there’s a reason. She was brown and from another country and white people hate that. It’s a horrible reason, but that’s the reason.
By chance, I am presently reading Jason De León’s The Land of Open Graves. He is a physical anthropologist who decided to apply those methods to a study of the people who migrate to the United States, especially those who are dying in the deserts where border walls push people. It is a very powerful, very disturbing study that goes as far as him killing pigs, dressing them in clothing, putting them in the desert, and then using hidden cameras to film what vultures do to those migrants who die there. He notes that the U.S. immigration system is directly killing people all the time. Long before Donald Trump came to power, the United States was murdering immigrants. Now it is even worse. You should all read this book.