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Immigrant detention deaths increase pressure for reform

Lack of medical care is the main problem in 104 deaths. Agencies and Obama promise change, but not fast enough for immigrant advocates.

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Monday's disclosure of 10 previously unreported deaths at immigrant detention centers highlights the need for reform at those facilities, say both immigrant rights groups and the government.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced the deaths that it apparently discovered during an in-depth review of agency records, which was prompted by a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

In total, 104 immigrants have died at federal detention centers since 2003.

The deaths revealed Monday were thought to have occurred between 2004 and 2007. The causes were not released.

"Medical care has been the chief concern," says Kevin Keenan, executive director for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. "There are no enforceable standards for medical care or anything else inside these facilities – there are guidelines but no way to enforce them."

While the Obama administration has announced plans to overhaul the 32,000-bed detention system that is spread out over 350 county jails, state prisons, and privately run facilities, it has rejected implementing legally enforceable standards at the centers.

Instead, the government will begin moving noncriminal detainees to smaller, less prison-like facilities and ensure that medical care meets federal guidelines, the administration says. Obama also said he'll place federal authorities at the country's largest detention centers to oversee detainee care.


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