ICE Claims It’s Not Legally Responsible For Immigration Detention Death

Last week, we reported that a federal judge rejected a U.S. government request to dismiss a lawsuit brought against immigration authorities by a U.S. citizen and military veteran who claims that he was mistakenly detained for seven months. This week, a judge will decide on whether the federal government bears culpability for another immigration detention slip up: the August 2008 death of Chinese immigrant, Hiu Lui “Jason” Ng. ICE is also arguing that this case should be dismissed on grounds that staffers at the jail at which NG died are contractors — not government employees.

After emigrating to the U.S. from China in 1992, Ng became a computer engineer, a husband of a U.S. citizen, and a father to two American-born sons. Ng, who had overstayed a visa years earlier, was going into his final interview for a green card when he was swept into immigration detention where he spent the final months of his life. When Ng complained that he was experiencing excruciating back pain while in custody he was allegedly accused of faking symptoms and ultimately pressured by an immigration officer to withdraw all pending appeals of his case and accept deportation. By the time Ng was finally taken to a hospital, he had terminal cancer and a fractured spine. He died five days later.

Ng’s family has named ICE and about two dozen other defendants in its lawsuit. While ICE has acknowledged that Ng was mistreated, the agency doesn’t think it should be held legally responsible for his death since Ng was under the supervision of contractors, not ICE staff. However, lawyers for the Ng family argue that the government’s defense is a troubling attempt to “punt responsibility and have it both ways.” Steven Brown of the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit, points out:

Only the government has the ability to lock people away, and yet it wants to wash its hands of any responsibility of what happens once people are detained in these facilities…It only increases the severity of the problems because of the total lack of accountability.

andreaTo ICE’s credit, the agency did pull all 153 of its immigration detainees from the jail in which Ng died, terminated its contract and issued a report lambasting the detention facility’s staff. Late last year, ICE announced that it was implementing reforms that move away from the “decentralized, jail-oriented approach” of the Bush administration with the goal of bringing “improved medical care, custodial conditions, fiscal prudence, and ICE oversight” to the U.S. detention system. However, while these necessary changes are commendable, they don’t excuse ICE from assuming legal responsibility for the missteps, blunders, and tragedies that developed under its watch.

Andrea Christina Nill

Republished with permission from the Wonk Room/Think Progress


  1. says

    > NOTE: Detention centers for Immigrants was the first example of the moves towards “privatization” of the US prison system, with the company CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA being the major entity.(WACKENHUT has now gotten into the business of incarceration, as no doubt othe companies have,–but, these are the biggest ones). It’s an he obvious horror of immigrants dying from injuries by guards or illness they were denied treatment for, while in these for-profit prisons. But, note that the US government’s argument is that NO ONE SHOULD BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR THESE DEATHS is BASED on the fact, that the staff at the detention center were “contractors”. In the recent court cases of families of Iraqi civilians mass-murdered by Blackwater at an intersection in 2007. the judge dismissed all the charges–again, being a “contractor” means NO ACCOUNTABILITY. The female worker w/KBR who was raped four years ago in Iraq–NO ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE CRIME:her employment contract said she ONLY had access to “arbitration” if she felt ‘mistreated “on the job.(Rape is now just “mistreatment”, not a crime?) Thirty Republicans in Congress said KBR and other contractors in war-zones should not be subject to US courts as a matter of “national security”. (See the pattern here?) More and more government activity has been privatized” over the last 20+ years–with momentum for privatization ESCALATED under Bush II–and no end in sight under President Obama. For example: the Obama Administration DEFENDED the contractors in the death of the Chinese immigrant man below; Sec. of Education Arnie Duncan is PUSHING for more privatization of public schools.
    > Finally, after the Supreme Court decision last month which strengthened the idea that “corporations are persons”–yet, unlike actual human beings, “corporate persons” act with increasing impunity for the harms they cause. The human rights, property and very lives of REAL persons have less and less protection as Corporations expand their control of more and more of the institutions and structures of society–impacting us all. The precedents started with prisons and war constractors but, there’s no end in sight now, to what Corproatins can get away with–unless a real movement is strengthened to fight for real people and ending “corporate personhood” .Lydia Howell, Minneapolis,MN

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