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The Progressive

Detention In America Should Not be a Death Sentence

Matthew Rothschild

At any given time, there are about 30,000 immigrants in detention in the United States.

And the way they are treated is a scandal.

Sometimes, they can't even get medical care for life-threatening conditions.

The great Haitian-American writer, Edwidge Danticat, has written a prize-winning book, "Brother, I'm Dying" about her uncle who perished in detention out of neglect.

She also testified about his treatment on October 4 before a House Judiciary subcommittee.

Immigration officials had taken away his medication for high blood pressure and an inflamed prostate. And even when he was vomiting they accused him of faking.

In the next issue of The Progressive, Laurel Maury tells about a man named Francisco Castañeda, who was placed in an immigration facility in early 2006. He had a lesion on his penis, but the immigration service would never let him get a biopsy for it.

When he was released almost a year later, he found out he had invasive skin cancer. He had to have his penis amputated, and he died within the year.


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"It's too late for me," he testified to Congress four months before he died, at the same hearing as Danticat. But "I am not the only one who didn't get the medical care I needed. It was routine to wait weeks or months for even basic care."

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported another case of a man, named Hiu Lui Ng, who died in detention with a broken back and a body riddled with untreated cancer.

"Officials accused him of faking his condition," the Times reported. "They denied him a wheelchair." And according to affidavits filed by his family, "they carried him in shackles to a car, bruising his arms and legs."

Only five days before his death did immigration officials take him to a hospital, and only after being ordered to by a judge. There he got the terminal diagnosis.

This is outrageous.

Even if you're as anti-immigrant as Lou Dobbs, I sure hope you'll agree that detention shouldn't amount to a death sentence.

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.

© 2008 The Progressive

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