Enough! AILA Decries Detainee's Death While in ICE Custody

Friday, August 15, 2008
George Tzamaras

WASHINGTON, DC -- A civilized society is in large part defined by the justice and humanity of its law enforcement. Our immigration law enforcement system has ceased to be either just or humane.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) decries the reported circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Hiu Lui Ng while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. Unfortunately, this was not just an isolated incident or a lone officer gone bad. It was the result of policies and a culture that have led to the abandonment of responsible law enforcement in favor of a pretext of enforcement of a system that has completely broken down.

What has caused this breakdown? Three cumulative factors:

  • Woefully inadequate health care for detainees and lack of due process protections are the result of ICE's efforts to deport large numbers of people without assuring the resources necessary to safeguard basic human rights.
  • ICE has failed to rationally prioritize its enforcement and detention initiatives, rather engaging in expansive efforts to arrest and detain as many people as possible without regard to capacity, resources, or legal avenues of relief.
  • In the face of inadequate resources to provide the appropriate legal process for the people caught up in these efforts, it appears as if immigration personnel have engaged in far too many efforts, both institutional and impromptu, to misdirect and intimidate people into abandoning their rights.

In the case of Mr. Ng, this breakdown has had tragic consequences. According to the news report, he was denied basic medical care, and his pain was used to try to coerce him into waiving his right to an appeal of his immigration case. "If the facts are as reported," said Charles Kuck, President of AILA, "then ICE has gone over the line of all decency. We cannot allow the agency to simply circle the wagons and dismiss its actions with a sentence or two of regret. Responsibility must be taken, and policies changed."

"AILA has repeatedly raised its concerns about detention policies and conditions with Assistant Secretary Myers," said Kuck. "We demand an immediate and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Ng's tragic death. Anyone found responsible, either through intent or negligence, must be held accountable by resignation, criminal prosecution, or both."

AILA calls upon ICE to prioritize its enforcement so that volume does not outstrip resources to conduct itself in a fair and humane manner, to put in place immediate safeguards to ensure that all detainees receive appropriate medical care, and to cease the policies that encourage its personnel to obtain waivers of rights by whatever means possible.


The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members. For more information call George Tzamaras at 202-507-7649 or Annie Wilson at 202-507-7653.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 08081562.