Lawsuit Seeks Records to Shed Light on Deaths of Detainees in DHS Custody

(Photo: BBC News)

American Oversight today sued the Department of Homeland Security to compel the release of senior officials’ communications — including those of former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan — related to the deaths of individuals detained by ICE and Border Patrol.

At least seven migrant children have died while in the custody of Customs and Border Protection, raising concerns about the treatment of those detained at the border and the conditions in detention centers. The Trump administration’s immigration policies, which have kept minors in custody for longer than the legally allowed time limits, could be contributing to the increase in minors getting sick and dying while in custody or shortly after they are released.

Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez died in custody last month after being diagnosed with the flu. Despite the law requiring unaccompanied migrant children to be transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours, he remained in a detention center for about a week before being transferred to a border patrol station.

In December 2018, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin also died in CBP custody after she had to wait an hour and a half before receiving emergency medical care. Despite widespread congressional concern about these tragedies, then-CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who is now acting secretary of homeland security, failed to notify Congress of Maquin’s death within 24 hours, as required by law, and a few days later still did not report her death during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Then-Secretary Nielsen also testified before Congress later that month on the deaths and could not provide a specific number of how many other people might have died in U.S. government custody.

In addition to official records related to the mistreatment of individuals in DHS custody, American Oversight is also seeking the release of communications, talking points, and memos of top department officials regarding detainee deaths.  The suit also aims to shed light on the treatment of vulnerable detainees, including what top DHS officials knew about serious threats to the health and lives of people in custody, and how that information shaped their public communications.

“DHS leadership has stonewalled on answers to why individuals died in its custody,” said American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers. “Until they start being transparent, the public is left to wonder whether these events were the result of negligence and indifference. The American people have a right to know what led to these tragedies and what’s being done to prevent more.”

These deaths, along with reports of poor facilities, inadequate medical treatment of pregnant women, and abuse of transgender detainees, have raised serious concerns about the well-being of individuals in DHS custody, especially minors. We’ve filed several Freedom of Information Act requests to find out more about the treatment of pregnant, transgender, and other vulnerable detainees, as well as to shed light on abuse in detention centers.

See the complaint below:

 

Update: June 21, 2019

On Friday, American Oversight filed an additional lawsuit seeking records from DHS, CBP, and ICE relating to the deaths of immigrants in custody. The second lawsuit seeks copies of complaints received by the DHS civil rights office, reports filed by ICE regarding the deaths of detainees, and records maintained by ICE and CBP regarding the detention of immigrants who later died in custody.

Related Blog Posts

May 29, 2020

New DHS Executive Secretary Linked to Stephen Miller’s Network

Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Social Security Administration
Investigation Update
May 22, 2020

News Roundup: One Firing, Multiple Scandals

Agency for International Development, Athens-Clarke County - Georgia, Bexar County - Texas, Cobb County - Georgia, Dallas County - Texas, Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Department of Administrative Services, Georgia Department of Corrections, Georgia Secretary of State, Gwinnett County - Georgia, Harris County - Texas, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Personnel Management, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Small Business Administration, State Office of the Inspector General, Texas Department of State Health Services, Travis County - Texas, Webb County - Texas
News
May 21, 2020

American Oversight Sues Administration for Documentation of Detention Center Covid Response

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Investigation Update
May 21, 2020

In the Documents: Vaccines Expired in Detention Facility Fridge in Early 2019

Texas Department of State Health Services
Investigation Update
May 15, 2020

News Roundup: The Subversion of Justice at the Justice Department

Cobb County - Georgia, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, Food and Drug Administration, Georgia Department of Corrections, Gwinnett County - Georgia, Louisiana Department of Health, Louisiana Office of the Governor, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, New Orleans Mayor's Office, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York City Office of the Mayor, New York Office of the Governor, New York State Department of Health, Office of Legal Counsel, Office of Management and Budget, Small Business Administration, U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, United States Postal Service, Wisconsin Elections Commission
News
May 12, 2020

Chaos, Confusion and Obfuscation at DHS Around Family Separation

Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Investigation Update
May 8, 2020

News Roundup: Who Will Watch the Inspectors General?

Agency for International Development, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Civil Division, Criminal Division, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Air Force, Department of the Army, Department of the Treasury, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Election Commission, Georgia Attorney General, Georgia Department of Administrative Services, Georgia Secretary of State, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Internal Revenue Service, Office of Management and Budget, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Troup County - Georgia, U.S. Department of the Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, United States Coast Guard
News
May 1, 2020

News Roundup: Protecting the Right to Vote During a Pandemic

Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, Arizona Department of Homeland Security, Arizona-Mexico Commission, Central Intelligence Agency, Cobb County - Georgia, Customs and Border Protection, DeKalb County - Georgia, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, Essex County - New Jersey, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Florida Department of State, Florida Office of the Governor, Food and Drug Administration, Fulton County - Georgia, Georgia Secretary of State, Gwinnett County - Georgia, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Indiana Secretary of State, Iowa Secretary of State, Kentucky Secretary of State, Kentucky State Board of Elections, Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, New Orleans, Office of Information Policy, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richmond County - Georgia, Texas Attorney General, Texas Secretary of State, Wisconsin Elections Commission, Yuma County - Arizona
News
April 24, 2020

News Roundup: Miracle Drugs and Trump’s Alternate Reality

Albany-Dougherty County - Georgia, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Chatham County - Georgia, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Cobb County - Georgia, Cook County - Illinois, Customs and Border Protection, DeKalb County - Georgia, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Florida Department of Corrections, Food and Drug Administration, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Fulton County - Georgia, General Services Administration, Georgia Department of Community Health, Gwinnett County - Georgia, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, King County - Washington, Macon-Bibb County - Georgia, Muscogee County - Georgia, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Office of Management and Budget, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Richmond County - Georgia, Texas Department of Health and Human Services, Veterans Health Administration
News
April 17, 2020

News Roundup: Who Stands to Gain?

Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Reserve, Florida, Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, Florida Department of Health, Florida Division of Emergency Management, Florida Office of the Governor, Georgia Department of Administrative Services, Georgia Department of Public Health, Georgia Office of the Governor, Georgia Secretary of State, Small Business Administration, Tybee Island City - Georgia, Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs, Wisconsin Senate, Wisconsin State Assembly
News
April 10, 2020

News Roundup: Corruption and Coronavirus

Agency for International Development, Census Bureau, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of the Treasury, Executive Office for Immigration Review, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Indian Health Service, Justice Management Division, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, Nevada Department of the Administration, Office of Information Policy, Office of Legal Counsel, Social Security Administration, U.S. Department of the Navy, United States Secret Service
News
April 3, 2020

News Roundup: Whose Stockpile, and Which States?

Broward County - Florida, Bureau of Industry and Security, California Office of the Governor, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Duval County - Florida, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Florida Office of the Governor, Food and Drug Administration, Gadsden County - Florida, Hendry County - Florida, Jackson County - Florida, King County - Washington, Leon County - Florida, Miami-Dade County - Florida, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, New York Office of the Governor, Office of Management and Budget, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Ohio Office of the Governor, Oklahoma Department of Health, Oklahoma Office of the Governor, Osceola County - Florida, Texas Attorney General, Texas Office of the Governor, Washington Office of the Governor
News
March 27, 2020

News Roundup: Transparency and Oversight Are More Important Than Ever

Bartow County - Georgia, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Cobb County - Georgia, Customs and Border Protection, DeKalb County - Georgia, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Drug Enforcement Administration, Executive Office for Immigration Review, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, Federal Election Commission, Florida Department of State, Florida Office of the Attorney General, Florida Office of the Governor, Fulton County - Georgia, General Services Administration, Georgia Office of the Governor, Georgia Secretary of State, Gwinnett County - Georgia, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, National Security Division, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Personnel Management, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Tennessee Valley Authority, Texas Attorney General, Texas Office of the Governor, Texas Secretary of State, U.S. Marshals Service
News
March 20, 2020

News Roundup: Testing, Messaging and Missed Chances

Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, Federal Communications Commission, Florida Office of the Attorney General, Georgia Attorney General, Harris County - Texas, Nevada Department of the Administration, Office of Management and Budget, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Texas Attorney General
News
February 28, 2020

News Roundup: Launching Our Investigation of Trump’s Authoritarian Purges

Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Florida Department of State, Hillsborough County - Florida, Leon County - Florida, National Security Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
News
February 26, 2020

New Lawsuit Seeks Information on Stephen Miller’s Involvement in Public Charge Rule

Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Labor
Investigation Update
February 21, 2020

News Roundup: The Post-Impeachment Purge and the Knock of Authoritarianism

Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Fish and Wildlife Service, Food and Drug Administration, Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, United States Secret Service
News
February 7, 2020

News Roundup: Acquittal Isn’t the End

Cobb County - Georgia, DeKalb County - Georgia, Department of Energy, Department of Justice, Department of State, Florida Department of State, Fulton County - Georgia, Georgia Secretary of State, Gwinnett County - Georgia, Office of Management and Budget
News
January 31, 2020

News Roundup: Hear No Evil, See No Evil

Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Executive Office for Immigration Review, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Harris County - Texas, Texas Office of the Governor
News
January 6, 2020

In the Documents: Stephen Miller’s Emails with Top ICE Official

Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Investigation Update
News
December 27, 2019

American Oversight’s 2019 in Review: Nine Important Stories We Uncovered

News
December 20, 2019

News Roundup: Beyond Impeachment — The Investigations Continue

Administration for Children and Families, Congress, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of Transportation, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Government Accountability Office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Management and Budget
News
December 13, 2019

News Roundup: Stephen Miller’s Extremist Network

Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Carroll County - Georgia, Congress, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Environmental Protection Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Office of Management and Budget, Texas Attorney General
News
December 6, 2019

News Roundup: Impeachment Report, Border Wall Contracts, and Pompeo’s Meeting with GOP Donors

Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State
News
November 15, 2019

News Roundup: Impeachment Inquiry Goes Public

Bartow County - Georgia, Carroll County - Georgia, Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Council on Environmental Quality, Dallas County - Texas, Decatur County - Georgia, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of Veterans Affairs, Florida House of Representatives, Georgia Secretary of State, Harris County - Texas, Lowndes County - Georgia, Paulding County - Georgia, Travis County - Texas
News
November 13, 2019

American Oversight Sues DHS for Cuccinelli Records

Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security
Investigation Update
November 8, 2019

News Roundup: Ukraine-Related Documents, Hurdles for Asylum-Seekers, and Chad Wolf’s Involvement in Family Separation

Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Florida Office of the Governor, Office of Information Policy, Office of Legal Counsel, Office of Management and Budget
News
October 11, 2019

News Roundup: Impeachment, Obstruction, and More Questions about Rick Perry

Administration for Children and Families, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security
News
October 9, 2019

Early Trump Administration — and McAleenan — Communications About Immigration Policy

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
Investigation Update
News
October 4, 2019

News Roundup: The Public Needs Answers

Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State
Investigation Update
News
September 13, 2019

News Roundup: Photos of Detention Centers for Migrant Children; Stephen Miller’s Hand in Immigration Policy

Administration for Children and Families, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Georgia Office of the Governor, Georgia Secretary of State, HHS Office of Inspector General, Small Business Administration
News
September 8, 2019

Photos from Inside Detention Centers for Migrant Children

Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services, HHS Office of Inspector General
Investigation Update
August 30, 2019

News Roundup: Remain in Mexico’s Harmful Effects and Trump’s Dangerous Impatience

Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Florida House of Representatives, Florida Senate, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Geological Survey
News
July 19, 2019

News Roundup: Investigating the Fallout from Spring’s DHS Shakeup

Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Florida Office of the Governor, General Services Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Tennessee Valley Authority
News
June 27, 2019

The Department of Homeland Security Doesn’t Know Where Trump Got Those Immigration Numbers, Either

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
Investigation Update
June 13, 2019

Documents Reveal New Information About 2017 CBP Media Efforts

Customs and Border Protection
Investigation Update
May 24, 2019

News Roundup: Congressional Hearing Shows and No-Shows

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Taylor County - Florida
News
April 24, 2019

American Oversight and ACLU of Massachusetts Sue DHS for Border Security Plan

Investigation Update
March 13, 2019

Two Years of American Oversight

News
February 15, 2019

News Roundup: Citizenship, the Census and the Constitution

Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice
News
February 1, 2019

News Roundup: More Troops at the Border Means More Questions for the Administration

Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security
News
January 18, 2019

News Roundup: Two Troubling Inspector General Reports

Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, General Services Administration
News
January 11, 2019

News Roundup: The Administration’s Misleading Claims About Terrorists at the Southern Border

Department of Homeland Security
News
December 27, 2018

Countdown to Oversight in 2019

News
December 12, 2018

Audit the Wall: No Plans, Funding or Timeline — And No Wall

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State
Investigation Update
December 5, 2018

American Oversight Sues Administration for Records of Family-Separation Policy

Administration for Children and Families, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review, HHS Office of Inspector General, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Investigation Update