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Death in Detention

“I inherited separation from President Obama,” and “I was the one that ended it.” – Donald J. Trump on June 23, 2019.

While this claim has been continuously proven wrong by fact checkers, Trump continues to argue that the notorious family separation policy was instituted by Obama. In truth, Trump’s former Attorney General Jeff Sessions began the family separation policy in an implementation of “zero tolerance” for illegal border crossings. As a result of this policy, thousands of children have been taken from their families and now face conditions of unsafe and unsanitary conditions that have proved fatal.

Twenty-four immigrants have died in ICE custody in the Trump administration’s two-and-a-half-year term. An additional four immigrants have died shortly after being released from ICE custody. That is the average size of an elementary class in the United States. However, this is far from unusual. The peak number of immigrant deaths in ICE detention centers in one year was thirty-two in 2004, the first full year that these records were kept.

Back in 2015, twenty-eight members of Congress wrote to ICE about their concern for the mounting death tolls in detention centers run by their agents. Their largest concern continues to be an issue today: failure to provide adequate medical care to detainees. While lack of medical care in ICE centers has often been failing, the concern issue has become more prominent as a result of the Obama-era implementation of family detention centers, privatization of these centers, and monetary incentives for the number of beds the facility could fill.

While Obama’s administration certainly harmed the health of migrants, the expansion of these programs by Trump’s administration have made the centers far more lethal than they proved to be under the previous administration.

Since the Department of Homeland Security was created after the September 11, 2001 attacks, there have been 188 recorded deaths in ICE detention. Last year, Department of Homeland Security officers observed “horrific” conditions during a surprise inspection of an immigrant detention facility outside of Los Angeles, California. In fifteen out of twenty of the rooms had nooses made of bed linens hanging from the air vents.

More recently, the Trump administration has further come under fire as lawyers have begun interviewing some of the children. They have found that children are often taking care of children, they lack basic necessities such as toothbrushes and soap. The administration has argued that these items are not required by law that mandates the government keep the children in “safe and sanitary” conditions. With little remorse being shown by the administration up to this point, it is likely that the conditions will only get worse. The only hope in site is governors and legislatures fighting back. Thus far, this has only really happened in Illinois where Governor J.B. Pritzker has signed a bill prohibiting local law enforcement officers from working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and preventing private detention centers from opening in the state. Hopefully, more states will follow this strategy.