Last week, The NY Times had an article about Hiu Lui Ng, a man who died while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), after being refused medical care. Ng had no criminal record. He overstayed his visa and at one point he applied for political asylum. And he was in the process of obtaining a green card when ICE decided to detain him — literally, they ambushed him when he reported to an immigration headquarters for his final interview.
In federal court affidavits, Mr. Ng’s lawyers contend that when he complained of severe pain that did not respond to analgesics, and grew too weak to walk or even stand to call his family from a detention pay phone, officials accused him of faking his condition. They denied him a wheelchair and refused pleas for an independent medical evaluation.
Instead, the affidavits say, guards at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, R.I., dragged him from his bed on July 30, carried him in shackles to a car, bruising his arms and legs, and drove him two hours to a federal lockup in Hartford, where an immigration officer pressured him to withdraw all pending appeals of his case and accept deportation.
[. . .]
Officials have given no explanation why they took Mr. Ng to Hartford and back on the same day. But the lawyers say the grueling July 30 trip appeared to be an effort to prove that Mr. Ng was faking illness, and possibly to thwart the habeas corpus petition they had filed in Rhode Island the day before, seeking his release for medical treatment.
[. . .]
Soon, according to court papers, he had to rely on other detainees to help him reach the toilet, bring him food and call his family; he no longer received painkillers, because he could not stand in line to collect them. On July 26, Andy Wong, a lawyer associated with Mr. Cox, came to see the detainee, but had to leave without talking to him, he said, because Mr. Ng was too weak to walk to the visiting area, and a wheelchair was denied.
Days before Mr. Ng died, he was finally diagnosed with cancer in his liver, lungs and bones. He also had a fractured spine.
Last time I checked, torture was illegal in the United States of America (ha), and the punishment for the “crime” of overstaying one’s visa was not supposed to be death.
But of course, we know that this is not the first time that someone has been treated as subhuman in our country because of their immigration status. Not even close. And as much as I hate to say it, I highly doubt it will be the last.
The other day, the Times published a follow-up story about Marino De Los Santos, a man who once shared a room with Ng while in detention.
“He was crying all night,” Mr. De Los Santos said from his home in Bridgeport, Conn., where he returned after he was released on bond on Friday. He faces deportation as a convicted drug dealer. “I got bottom bunk, he got the upper bunk, and when he’s going to bed, it’s terrible. And I got problems, too, in my back, but him, when I see him, I can’t sleep.”
Mr. Ng was eventually assigned to a lower bunk in another cell, but by late last month he could barely walk, Mr. De Los Santos said. “When you line up to take medicine, he would grab a chair, because he couldn’t stand. And they would tell him he had to let the chair go, he had to stand, but he couldn’t.”
He said that when Mr. Ng was bedridden, he saw a nurse go to check him in his cell. “She came out laughing and saying he was faking,” Mr. De Los Santos said.
In addition to corroborating the story of Ng’s mistreatment, Mr. Santos faced abuse himself. He filed a lawsuit last year, long before Ng’s death, detailing similar “care” while in the custody of ICE:
The lawsuit, filed in Providence, asserts that employees at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Center, in Central Falls, R.I., denied a wheelchair to Marino De Los Santos, who said that he suffered serious injuries to his neck, back, chest and spine in two falls at the center in 2006. According to the suit, employees accused Mr. De Los Santos of faking his injuries and refused to take him to scheduled examinations by a spine specialist.
In both cases, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, officials denied any wrongdoing. Of course.
I’ve said it more times than I can count, and I’ll say it again: when We dehumanize people, call them words like “illegal,” mock them, build up fences to try to keep them out and otherwise behave as though they are not good enough to participate in our society right alongside good, wonderful, deserving Us . . . this is what happens. When we stop looking at people as though they’re human like this rest of us, suddenly we stop treating them as though they are, too. Amazing how that works.
And disgusting, and a point that I worry may take a long time for Amerians to understand, or even give two shits about. After all, we’re not talking about people, we’re talking about “the illegals.”