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November 19, 2004

Asylum News 33

Baptist Minister Dies in U.S. Immigration Jail

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Detained 81-year-old Haitian Minister because He Asked for Asylum Haiti Baptist Minister Joseph Dantica fled Haiti and arrived at Miami International Airport on October 29, 2004, traveling on his own passport. The Department of Homeland Security put the 81-year-old Reverend Dantica in an immigration jail in Miami after he asked for asylum. Several days later, Reverend Dantica died in DHS custody. “The treatment of Reverend Dantica was deplorable and should be investigated immediately,” said Eleanor Acer, Director of Human Rights First’s Asylum Program. “The Department of Homeland Security – just like the INS before it – is totally mishandling the detention of asylum seekers. They have failed to make necessary reforms – and keep jailing ministers and other victims of persecution, instead of making fair and humane decisions about the need for detention in each individual case.” Human Rights First extends its deepest sympathies to the family of Reverend Dantica. For more information read “Asylum Seekers Death While in Federal Custody Spurs Outcry” in the South Florida Sun Sentinel (November 18, 2004). Read Human Rights First’s Letter to Secretary Ridge. (PDF - 52KB) Human Rights First Urges Immediate Investigation and Reforms Human Rights First urges the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to immediately:
  • Investigate this incident, including reports that Reverend Dantica was deprived of his medications, accused of faking his illness, and was denied the right to have his family visit him once he was hospitalized; and
  • Investigate the Department’s initial decision to detain, and subsequent decision not to release, the 81-year-old minister.
Human Rights First also urges that the Inspector General investigate the Department of Homeland Security’s broader policy of targeting Haitian nationals for immigration detention. The Department of Homeland Security, in it statement regarding Reverend Dantica’s case, states that Reverend Dantica had a pre-existing and fatal medical condition. Human Rights First recommends that Department of Homeland Security take immediate steps to improve the treatment of asylum seekers like Reverend Dantica who flee from persecution and danger only to find themselves jailed in this country. In January 2004, Human Rights First issued a comprehensive report on the U.S. detention of asylum seekers, called In Liberty’ Shadow: US Detention of Asylum Seekers in the Era of Homeland Security. In that report, Human Rights First:
  • Explained how those who flee persecution and seek refuge in the U.S. are detained automatically at our airports, sent to prison-like facilities, and deprived of a fair process for seeking their release from detention;
  • Described how Haitian asylum seekers have been subjected to a nationality-based detention policy and deprived of meaningful assessments of the need for their continued detention by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice; and
  • Concluded that, since September 11, the Department of Homeland Security has increasingly begun detaining asylum seekers who arrive at airports and borders even though they arrive on their own valid passports.
The Department of Homeland Security should immediately:
  • Terminate its nationality-based detention policies aimed at Haitian asylum seekers;
  • Give Haitian and other asylum seekers the chance to have their detention reviewed by an immigration judge, like other immigration detainees;
  • Put the official parole criteria for asylum seekers into formal regulations; and
  • Create a high-level refugee protection position in the Office of the DHS Secretary Tom Ridge.
Background on the Department of Homeland Security and the Detention of Haitians Since the Department of Homeland Security took over the functions of the former INS in March 2003, Human Rights First has repeatedly urged Secretary Ridge and the Department to take steps to ensure that asylum seekers who interact with the Department’s immigration enforcement bureaus are treated fairly, humanely and in accordance with international standards of refugee protection. We have, in particular, urged that DHS create a high-level refugee protection position within the Department. We have been particularly concerned because of the bureaucratic structure of DHS: when the INS was abolished, its immigration functions were divided between three different bureaus within DHS. As a result, the legal and operational expertise on refugee protection is located in a totally separate bureau from the bureaus that detain asylum seekers. For more on this, read our report: Refugees, Asylum Seekers and the Department of Homeland Security and see our web page on DHS. The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have initiated blanket detention policies aimed at Haitian asylum seekers. For more information about those policies, read our web page on this issue.