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Detention Deaths: Sign of a System in "Crisis"

June 19, 2008

New York, NY — Published reports say 62 immigrants have died after being placed in "administrative detention" in the United States in the last four years. Tonight, 30 cities hold "A Night of a Thousand Conversations," simultaneous events organized to raise awareness of detention policies and prison conditions that, for some, have proved fatal.

Organizers, including Amy Gottlieb, immigration program director for the American Friends Service Committee, say the events will truly be conversations - about the undermining of people's basic human rights and civil liberties.

"Why is it so hard for people to speak out on an issue where people are losing their lives; where people are ill and not getting medical care, where people are dying, people are being torn apart from their families? Why is that so hard to talk about?"

The number of people being held in administrative detention has grown by one-third in the past year, and immigration officials say some deaths are inevitable. Gottlieb sees it differently, calling the deaths just one sign of an immigration system that's in crisis.

"We have a system of thousands and thousands of people being locked up on civil violations - with minimal oversight of the facilities where they are being held, limited access to counsel, and with very, very little information about what the process is that they're going through."

Gottlieb believes America's main response to immigration problems has been to simply to lock people up. She hopes to explore other options at tonight's event. In New York, the "Night of a Thousand Conversations" will take place at the Tenement Building on Orchard Street in Manhattan.

Michael Clifford/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - NY