[The] legislation would require the federal government to establish
mandatory standards for medical and mental health care, replacing the
voluntary standards that apply now in the network of more than 300
publicly and privately run jails where the government holds people
while it decides whether to deport them.
The bill would also require the secretary of the Homeland Security Department
to report all deaths in immigration detention within 48 hours to the
Justice Department’s inspector general as well as its own. Immigration
officials would be required to submit a detailed report on such deaths
to Congress every year.Nina Bernstein and Julia Preston
New York Times
7 May 2008
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the Detainee Basic Medical
Care Act of 2008 (DBMC) in the U.S. Senate, along with original
co-sponsors Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Daniel
Akaka (D-HI), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT). The bill is a companion to what U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced in the U.S.
House., H.R. 5950.
Don’t get me wrong, there are extremely important systemic provisions
in this bill, that would certainly bring U.S. migrants closer to being
treated as fully human. A seemingly simple, but important provision,
is just to force the Department of Homeland Security to report detainee
deaths, which is not required as of yet. Here’s the portion of the bill that addresses it:
(g) Reporting Requirements- The Secretary of Homeland Security shall
report to the Offices of Inspector General for the Department of
Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, within 48 hours,
information regarding the death of any immigration detainee
in the Secretary’s custody. Not later than 60 days after the end of
each fiscal year, the Secretary shall submit a report to the Committee
on the Judiciary of the Senate and the Committee on the Judiciary of
the House of Representatives containing detailed information regarding
the death of all immigration detainees in the Secretary’s custody
during the preceding fiscal year.
Getting DHS to report migrant deaths is a small but important step towards holding the federal government accountable for the horrible abuses migrants suffer at the U.S. governments hands. ICE spokespeople tell us over and over how humane they treat migrants, but how are we supposed to tell when they do not release any information on their activities, and are not required to do so? This is in line with a U.S. government that fails to count Iraqi deaths. How can you even pretend to value human life when you’re not even counting the people that die while you’re responsible for them?
This bill, even if enacted, should not be held up as a victory for migrant advocates. Offering migrants medical care after they’ve trekked across the world in search of opportunity, after they’ve been exploited by employers, after they’ve been separated from their families and detained en route to deportation, is like giving a bread crumb to starving person.
Or maybe we should say, “Thank you, Congress for introducing legislation to stop the government you run from killing migrants!”