Monday, a 40-year-old Mexican man became the fourth such immigrant to die in American custody since December.
The news was released the same day the United States Supreme Court issued a decision to allow immigrants to be held in American custody indefinitely and without possibility of bail.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it regretted the unnamed immigrant’s death at Las Palmas Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. He was diagnosed with flu-like symptoms, liver failure and renal failure.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and his loved ones,” CBP assistant commissioner for public affairs Andrew Meehan said in a statement. “CBP remains committed to ensuring the safe, humane and dignified treatment of those within the care of our custody.”
The incident is reminiscent of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old Venezuelan girl who died in American custody in December. She presented with a high fever, vomiting and seizures. Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen blamed Maquin’s parents for her death.
The ACLU called for an immediate, independent and transparent investigation into conditions at CBP detention facilities, and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility is looking into the death. CBP also notified the Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General and Mexican government.
America treats immigration-related crime far worse than other comparable crimes, with violation of religious freedoms and holding immigrants in custody long passed their release dates among many other offenses against migrant populations.
The worsening treatment of immigrants has alarmed Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer,
“No one can claim, nor since the time of slavery has anyone to my knowledge successfully claimed, that persons held within the United States are totally without constitutional protection,” wrote Breyer in his Jennings dissent last year. “Whatever the fiction, would the Constitution leave the government free to starve, beat, or lash those held within our boundaries? If not, then, whatever the fiction, how can the Constitution authorize the government to imprison arbitrarily those who, whatever we might pretend, are in reality right here in the United States?”
The future Breyer paints — one of starving, beating or lashing immigrants — seems far-fetched, but it troubled him enough to take the rare step of delivering his dissent from the bench.
A step he repeated in Nielsen v. Preap, a ruling announced the same day as the announcement of the unnamed Mexican immigrant’s death.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.