Rights Groups Call for Transparency and Accountability in Latest ICE Detention Death

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, June 14, 2017

New York, NY — Immigrant rights organizations, Center for Constitutional Rights, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP), Families for Freedom, Immigrant Defense Project (IDP), and Detention Watch Network (DWN) are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Carlos Mejia-Bonilla. Mejia-Bonilla, 44, died on Saturday while in the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This tragedy marks the 10th death to occur in ICE detention since the start of the fiscal year. In the case of Mejia-Bonilla, ICE has yet to reveal the New York area detention center where he was held prior to his death.

“ICE must publicly reveal the detention center where Mejia-Bonilla was held prior to his death,” said Ghita Schwarz of Center for Constitutional Rights. “It is unacceptable that they would deliberately withhold crucial information as we try to understand what led to this tragedy.”

This lack of transparency is particularly alarming as the death toll rises. Mejia-Bonilla’s passing marks 174 deaths in detention since 2003 — a shameful record exposing ICE’s inability to guarantee the safety and health of people in its custody. Recent investigations into deaths in immigration detention have found that inadequate medical care at detention centers has contributed to numerous deaths.

“To date, ICE has failed to respond to repeated demands that the findings of the investigation into detention deaths be made public,” said Danny Cendejas, organizing director of Detention Watch Network. “ICE must be held accountable for the shocking loss of life in immigration detention.”

The alarming death toll underscores a system that is plagued by egregiously poor conditions and system-wide abuses. In New York, there are seven facilities that imprison people in ICE custody — ripping them from their families and loved ones.

“Immigration detention is unjust and extremely dangerous,” said Jamila Hammami, Executive Director of the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project. “We see numerous cases of abuse and misconduct, especially with respect to LGBTQI immigrants, in facilities in the New York area.”

“No one is safe in immigration detention,” said Donald Anthonyson of Families for Freedom. “The criminalization of immigrants by the US government is the foundation of our immigration enforcement system, and is wielded as a weapon to justify inhumane treatment and stereotype an entire community.”

ICE acting director Thomas Homan’s testimony before the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee yesterday showed this playbook in action when he commented on deporting immigrants with no criminal record, saying, “we shouldn’t wait for them to become a criminal.”

"Mr. Mejia-Bonilla's death is a tragic but logical toll of the dehumanization that underlies ICE’s system of mass imprisonment and deportation," said Mizue Aizeki, Deputy Director of the Immigrant Defense Project. “Acting Director Homan’s characterization of all immigrants as latent threats is yet another call for us to intensify the fight for basic human dignity and against the sweeping criminalization of our communities."  


The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.ccrjustice.org and follow @theCCR.

Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit www.detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow @DetentionWatch.

Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) is a national non-profit organization based in NYC. We fight for the human rights of immigrants in the criminal legal and immigration systems. Founded in response to the draconian 1996 U.S. immigration laws, our work focuses on ending the current era of mass deportation and criminalization by transforming these two unjust systems at multiple points. We use impact litigation and advocacy to challenge unfair laws and policies, and media and communications to counter the pervasive demonization of immigrants. Through expert legal advice, training, and resources for immigrants, legal defenders, and grassroots organizations across the country, we support those on the frontlines fighting for justice for immigrants and all of us. Visit www.immdefense.org and follow @ImmDefense.

Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP) is a post- release support, detention center visitation, direct service, and community organizing project that works with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Two Spirit, Trans, Gender Non- Conforming, and HIV+ immigrant prisoners across the country and their families currently in detention centers, those that are recently released from detention centers, and those at risk of entering immigration detention in New York City.

Visit www.qdep.org and follow @queerdep.