Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

No 'holiday on ICE' for Haitian American novelist's uncle

It's been more than two years since the Obama administration announced it would reform the nation's immigrant detention system, a response to what at the time had become a storm of lawsuits and other complaints over deaths in custody, overcrowding and shoddy medical care. Not long ago, the administration released guidelines in the form of a detention manual, whose standards are perhaps best embodied in a newly-opened detention center in Texas.

While still operated by a private prison company, as are the bulk of U.S. immigrant detention facilities, the new facility has a less prison-like environment that allows detainees access to things like green space and a library. But not everyone is pleased with the reforms. Among the critics has been Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who today is holding a hearing on the new guidelines dubbed "Holiday on ICE." Smith's complaint, according to a news release, is that the manual "is more like a hospitality guideline."

Novelist Edwidge Danticat begs to differ. As it turns out, the celebrated Haitian American author's uncle was among those who died in custody. She writes in the New York Times:

The flippant title of the hearing shows a blatant disregard for the more than 110 people who have died in immigration custody since 2003. One of them was my uncle Joseph, an 81-year-old throat cancer survivor who spoke with an artificial voice box. He arrived in Miami in October 2004 after fleeing an uprising in Haiti. He had a valid passport and visa, but when he requested political asylum, he was arrested and taken to the Krome detention center in Miami.

His medications for high blood pressure and an inflamed prostate were taken away, and when he fell ill during a hearing, a Krome nurse accused him of faking his illness. When he was finally transported, in leg chains, to the prison ward of a nearby hospital, it was already too late. He died the next day.

My uncle"s brief and deadly stay in the United States immigration system was no holiday.

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