A horrible death in the desert is just one of the many risks thousands of undocumented workers face in order to find their American Dream. Not many of them would ever imagine that death may find them in a prison cell, far from the desert and the coyotes, due to the lack of medical attention for a serious condition, while waiting to be removed from the country.
Over 60 people have found death in a prison that way over the last five years, including Maria Iñamagua, an Ecuadorian immigrant who died in Ramsey County Prison, here in Minnesota, in April 2006, waiting to be deported to her beloved Ecuador. Three more people died in less than a month just a few weeks ago, raising new concerns. But, even while people are dying, most of those deaths remain uninvestigated and no one has been held responsible for them yet.
The rapid explosion of undocumented immigration over the past ten years has brought, as a natural consequence, a big amount of pressure over immigration control agencies. These agencies have been forced to pay state, county and local prisons systems to detain the ever growing number of undocumented immigrants awaiting trial and removal, every year.
These prisons, as the weaker link of the chain, are suffering serious problems to take care of the growing amount of inmates. Overpopulation of several sectors and insufficient medical attention are only two of the many problems these prisons face. Budgetary cuts and slow refunds from the federal government are bigger issues that they face every day in caring for these federal inmates.
The situation gets worst when the thin line that divides each of the agencies’ –involved in the process- responsibilities blurs and becomes no one’s land. Some of them claim that they just don’t have the resources to provide medical attention to ICE’s detainees and that ICE should be responsible for those expenses. ICE simply claims that since those people are under the prison responsibility, the prison is responsible for their health care. ICE doesn’t have the premises or the budget to deal with those situations and that is why it pays those prisons to take care of its detainees.
In the meantime, people are dying. Over sixty in the last five years, and the recent death of these three people, two of them undocumented workers and the other a legal resident, have set the stage for a new nickname for the immigration system, “The Hallway to Hell”.
Maria Iñamagua, April 13, 2006; St. Paul, MN
Maria Iñamagua’s death became the first ever from an immigration detainee in a facility in Minnesota. Maria died as a consequence of a massive stroke [due to an untreated brain parasite infection].
Maria, 28, and her mother, were detained in early spring 2006. They were both moved to Ramsey County Prison the very same night of their detention. A legal loophole made Maria’s case longer than expected, while her mother was removed to Ecuador a few weeks after her detention. On April 4th, after several weeks of complaining of a head ache –for which she only received Tylenol-, Maria collapsed in her cell. She was discovered by the guards, lying on the floor, unconscious, by 4:00PM. She was taken to the infirmary and later, around 11:30PM, almost 8 hours after she was found unconscious, she was taken to Regions Hospital. Her condition was critical at her arrival and vital signs were almost lost. She was taken immediately to the intensive care unit, where she was evaluated and put on a ventilator.
After a week of intensive screening and testing, doctors attending her case reach the conclusion that the brain damage was so massive that there was nothing else science can do for her. Her brain was ruled dead and they asked her husband for his consent to take her out of the ventilator. After a long day of meditation, he decided that turning off the ventilator is the best thing to do. She died on April 13th, a few minutes after the ventilator was turned off, at 1:30PM.
Victor Arellano, July 20th, 2007; San Pedro, CA
Victor Arellano, 23, born in Mexico, was also known as Victoria Arellano, after his sex change operation. She was detained in May 2007, after ICE agents found him under a removal order for reentering the country after being previously deported. She was taken to a detention center in San Pedro, California, awaiting deportation.
Her advanced stage of HIV –AIDS- made her completely dependent on her medication, which she needed in order to prevent infections and stay alive. During her almost three months of detention she ran out of her prescription and though she requested the prison several times to refill her prescription, her request was denied.
Finally, on July 20th, her prison mates begged the guards to take her to a hospital. She was vomiting blood and had very high fever. She was taken immediately to a medical facility in San Pedro, where she died a few hours after her arrival.
Rosa Isela Contreras Dominguez, August 1st, 2007; El Paso, TX
She was a legal resident in the country. Born in Mexico, she was taken to a detention center in El Paso, Texas, after serving eighteen months for federal charges on drug smuggling. Rosa, 38, was waiting to be removed to Mexico, when she began complaining from incessant pain in one leg. She was evaluated at the prison’s infirmary and it was determined that she was 7 weeks pregnant and she was suffering from high blood pressure due to the pregnancy.
The staff at the infirmary treated her as best they could with their scarce resources and poor equipment. Finally, on August 1st, she suffered a stroke from blood clot and vanished. She was taken to an emergency room near the detention center, in El Paso, but she died only a few minutes after her arrival.
Edimar Alves Araujo, August 7th, 2007; Woonsocket, RI
This Brazilian immigrant was detained on a traffic violation on the morning of August 7th, 2007. He was on his way to see his sister, Irene. Police officers checked his driver’s license and found out that he had a pending deportation order after he overstayed his visa and refused to leave after ordered by a judge.
He was taken to Woonsocket Police detention center, where he called his sister and updated her on his situation. She ran immediately to the detention center where she begged police officers to give him his medication –he suffered from a severe case of epilepsy and needed daily medication to control it-. Police officers denied her request several times and later, that same day, at 4:00PM, due to the stress of the detention, he suffered an epilepsy episode. Emergency personnel were dispatched to the detention center but there was nothing they could do after they arrived. He died a few minutes after the episode began.
People’s comments after these events
The Washington Post printed an article about these incidents on its August 15th edition. The article, written by Darryl Fears, received tons of negative comments on its web site. From a little under 50 comments on the article, 43 were absolutely negative. Some of them estate that these people were nothing but “criminals” and that they deserved what happened to them. Others say that they were “illegal aliens” and because they decided to break the law coming illegally to the country, they had no rights to any benefit and their tax money was better invested in border security than in healthcare for these “criminals”.
Milton J. Valencia wrote another article, published by The Boston Globe on August 9th, 2007, on the same events. His article received similar comments at a similar proportion than The Washington Post’s. Other articles published by smaller publications all over the country saw the same phenomenon.
Unfortunately, while the public opinion turns to the other side on these events, these deaths remain uninvestigated and no one will be held responsible for what happened. Our country is a country of laws and though these people broke the law entering the country illegally, we can not turn our eyes to the other side. We have a moral responsibility and we must ask for accountability, even for those dying in “The Hallway to Hell”. That’s the American way.