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Family of Deceased ICE Detainee Seeks Answers About His Death

NEWz, Interview, Mary Thang Posted: Feb 04, 2009

Hiu Lui "Jason" Ng died of advanced cancer while a detainee of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). His advanced cancer as well as a fractured spine had gone undiagnosed until five days before his death on August 6, 2008.

Ng's family seeks answers about his treatment during his detainment at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, RI, which allegedly denied him use of a wheelchair and failed to take him to scheduled medical appointments.

A Rhode Island court is expected to decide this month if the Wyatt Detention Center, which contracted with ICE but is not part of ICE, must turn over the records.

John J. "Jack" McConnell Jr., the pro bono lawyer representing the Ng family for the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union (RI ACLU), spoke to NEWz about the Ng case last month. Following is the edited and condensed phone interview.

Why is Mr. Ng's case so important? 
It sheds light on many of the stories of immigrant detainees' mistreatment while in the custody of ICE [the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement].

I believe in the likelihood that cases like this go on more often than are reported. And the fact that the family is demanding justice in such a public way is admirable and is a reason for us to publicly pursue this case.

You said ICE detainment cases like Mr. Ng's go on more often than not. Do you have any information as to how pervasive such cases might be?
I don't have statistics, but it doesn't take a lot of reading in the last year or two [in the press] to have seen stories of other detainees being denied proper medical care.

There was the awful story that appeared in "60 Minutes" [TV program] about a detainee, Franciso Castaneda, who had undetected penile cancer. He testified before Congress once he got out and later died needlessly because of maltreatment in the prison system in California.

The ACLU in Massachusetts just came out with a report concerning ICE's treatment of immigrants in Massachusetts, which again details many of the horror stories.

There have been a series of articles in the New York Times, talking about other detainees and mtreatment.
It's those kind of reports that lead me to believe that there's more (mistreatment of ICE detainees) than we've even heard about.

What exactly does the Ng family want? What will a lawsuit seek?
No one's suing yet. We're still in the investigatory stage. First, the Ng family seeks answers for why this happened to Jason. We filed a state complaint simply to attempt to get the records, and that had a hearing [in December], which is continued until January 29, 2009.

But the underlying lawsuit accusing anyone of any wrongdoing has not been filed yet.

Who is your defendant in the discovery phase? Is it ICE or the detention facility in Central Falls, RI?
The Central Falls Detention facility is the defendant in the discovery case because we want their records. In terms of determining who the appropriate parties are to sue, we're not at that stage yet.

Why did you personally take this case?
It was a wrong that cried out for justice. And that's what lawyers are supposed to do.

In the hearing last month between you and the detention facility, were you surprised that Judge Hurst didn't make a decision about the release or non-release of Mr. Ng's inmate records?
I was hoping she had sufficient information to release the records. But she zeroed in on a very specific, legal question. She wants further guidance [concerning a federal regulation, 8 CFR section 236.6, and how it applies to Mr. Ng's case,] that we will provide to her.

That federal regulation (deals) with whether the records of the prison itself are controlled by the prison, Wyatt, or whether in fact they're controlled by ICE because of this federal regulation, which prohibits the dissemination of prison records concerning detainees.

If ICE controls them, they (Wyatt Detention Facility) are not allowed to disseminate (the records).

Further, another issue is the legal briefing on the issue, of the effect of that regulation on a person who is no longer a detainee.

So why should Mr. Ng's case be exempt from this federal regulation?
At least two reasons. One is that Mr. Ng is no longer a detainee. He's dead, so we don't believe that the regulation prohibiting the release (of prison records of detainees) applies.

Two, we don't believe that it applies to the detainees themselves requesting the record. We believe it only applies to requests from third parties because of the way the regulation is written - it clearly intends to try to protect the release of information to the public about detainees, not information to the detainees themselves.

But even though Mr. Ng's family is related to him, are they not legally third parties?
No, they're acting on his behalf.

Is there any legal precedent for what you're requesting?
Yeah. A court in Connecticut actually ruled that this particular federal regulation does not apply to former detainees, in El Badrawi v. Commissioner, State of Connecticut, Dept. of Correction, January 2008.

If the judge rules that the federal regulation does apply, what's your next step?
Perhaps we will go to federal court and seek the records directly from ICE.

ICE abruptly transferred out all 153 detainees out of the Wyatt the day before your first hearing last month. What was your reaction to that?
I don't really have a reaction to that. My concern is that potential witnesses to the abuse that Jason suffered will now be dispersed, and it may make it difficult to interview and find them. That's my concern.

These inmates who were transferred out of Wyatt, if you can't get a hold of them or Mr. Ng's records, does that essentially end your case?
No. I already know quite a bit of what happened to Jason. We know it from family members because Jason told them what happened. And we have enough information outside of that, I don't think that will be prohibitive. It'll just make it much more difficult.

What's your understanding of reports that Wyatt staff apparently did not believe Mr. Ng when he complained of being in pain?
That's what I understand as well. That's what I have been told by his family members.

Is there anything else that you would like to let readers of New England Ethnic News know?
There seems to be amongst many people a feeling that immigrant detainees should not be afforded the American rights and the American values that we all believe in here. Part of what comes from this case is a re-emphasis on the rules of law and human rights of people, whether they be detainees or whether they be in this country with or without papers.

Do you have anything you want to suggest to immigrants or their families who might find themselves being detained, and they have unattended medical issues?
Constant vigilance by members of the family that are on the outside or representatives on the outside is the key to ensuring that family members get appropriate medical care.

What about the instances in which detainees are transferred to long distances away from where loved ones are?
Phone, e-mail, calling congressional offices all would be things I would put at my disposal if that was one of my loved ones. One of the first ways that Jason got medical care in this instance was through a family member who e-mailed the warden.

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