WASHINGTON — Immigration officials said Monday they discovered records of 10 previously unreported deaths of detainees in government custody, prompting a review by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency “to ensure the integrity of ICE’s records on detainee deaths.”
The new cases involved eight men from Cuba, one from Mexico and one from Ecuador, bringing to 104 the number of people who have died while in ICE custody since October 2003, the agency said.
ICE initially disclosed little information beyond the men’s names, nationalities and dates of death, but more data was later released by officials at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the immigration agency. That data showed eight of the men died of natural causes, while another was listed as a suicide. There was no cause of death listed for the final detainee.
Eight of the deaths occurred at facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, including four at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo., the data showed. The suicide was at a federal prison facility in Terre Haute, Ind. Two detainees died at a contract facility run by Corrections Corporation of America in Eloy, Ariz.
All 10 died between 2004 and 2007, according to the agency.
Gillian Brigham, an ICE spokeswoman, said the deaths did not turn up earlier this year when the agency, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, tried to conduct a comprehensive search of those who died while in custody. Ms. Brigham said the agency was aware the 10 detainees had died in custody, but their names hadn’t come up in the original search.
“This is a serious matter that we uncovered and it requires an immediate response,” said John Morton, assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security who heads ICE. “Appropriate tracking and accounting of the deaths of individuals in ICE custody is imperative,” he said in a statement.
The hunt for other cases was ordered Saturday, although the agency announced the move on Monday.
“Today’s announcement confirms our very worst fears,” said David Shapiro, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the original request for a comprehensive list of the deaths. He criticized the government for running a system “devoid of transparency and accountability,” adding that Monday’s announcement raised questions about whether other deaths occurred.
“I think this is a case study on why they need to revamp their detention system,” said Donald M. Kerwin Jr., vice president for programs at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, an independent think tank. “We don’t really know whether their database actually even tracks this information.”
Mr. Morton said earlier this month he was launching a multiyear review and overhaul of the nation’s immigration-detention system, in part to make it less reliant on using prison-like facilities to hold noncriminal immigration offenders.
Although there were few specifics given in that announcement, Mr. Morton said he would substantially increase oversight of the facilities used to hold detainees. That includes a plan to place a government manager inside each of the nation’s 23 largest detention facilities, which together hold about 40% of the nation’s immigration detainees.
The government relies heavily on a patchwork of facilities leased from state and local governments, along with privately run centers, to house the roughly 400,000 people who pass through its immigration-detention system each year.
Advocates have long criticized the level and efficacy of medical care for those being held, but it was unclear if substandard care played a role in deaths announced Monday.