Monday, May 5, 2008

Family Struggled in Vain to Help Suffering Detainee (New York Times)

Published: May 5, 2008

The four sons of Maya Nand, 56, are still haunted by the last collect call he made to them from an immigration detention center in Eloy, Ariz.

“This was the first time we ever heard our dad cry,” said one, Jay Ashis Nand, 25. “He said, ‘Son, if you don’t get me out of here today, I’m going to die.’ ”

Mr. Nand, a legal immigrant from Fiji who was diabetic, had been calling his family with mounting desperation over a 10-day period, the sons said. Already ailing when he was abruptly taken into custody at the family’s home in Sacramento early in the morning of Jan. 13, 2005, he had deteriorated after a week at the Arizona detention center, which is run for the federal government by Corrections Corporation of America, a publicly traded prison company.

“He felt a lot of pain in his heart,” Jay Ashis said. “He would stand up all night because he couldn’t breathe.”

The sons, all naturalized American citizens, said their father told them that the medical staff at Eloy did not take his condition seriously, and that when he could barely walk, guards would tell him to stop faking.

The sons kept calling the center to plead for medical attention, they said, but could get through only to an answering machine. They said they hired a lawyer to reach the warden, but nothing changed. And in their father’s last call, it seemed his life was hanging in the balance.

That he was being detained at all was hard for the family to understand. Mr. Nand, whose forefathers were brought to Fiji from India as slaves by the British, had waited 10 years so he could move the family legally to the United States, in November 1998. A former civil servant, he struggled to find work as an architectural draftsman, and eventually applied for United States citizenship.

It was the rejection of his citizenship application, because of a 2002 misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence, that apparently prompted his arrest. The misdemeanor was the lone blot on his record, his sons said, and had been resolved to the court’s satisfaction with a year of anger management classes.

But immigration authorities considered it grounds for deportation. And instead of summoning him by letter to immigration court, where he could have fought to stay in the United States, immigration agents arrested him without warning and shipped him to detention in another state.

On Jan. 25, 2005, the day after Mr. Nand’s last call from Eloy, about midway between Phoenix and Tucson, he was found slumped in the lobby of the detention center’s clinic suffering cardiac arrest, said his second son, Jay Pranawnip Nand, 27. Then he was taken by ambulance to an emergency room in Casa Grande, Ariz., where, according to a letter to the family from an immigration official, doctors diagnosed congestive heart failure and later a heart attack. He was airlifted to a hospital in Tucson, on life support.

After driving 12 hours to get to the hospital, the sons and their mother, Malti, said they watched helplessly as Mr. Nand’s damaged heart failed. He died Feb. 2, shackled to the bed.

Asked about Mr. Nand’s treatment, Corrections Corporation officials said in a written statement that he had been medically screened when he arrived at the Eloy center, seen and treated “multiple times” by its medical staff, and taken to a hospital. According to a government list of deaths in immigration custody, Mr. Nand was one of five detainees to die at Eloy within a 26-month period; none of the deaths have previously been brought to public attention.

“After the funeral, I was like, ‘I want to sue the hell out of them,’ ” Jay Pranawnip said. “I don’t want money. I just want them to realize what they have done and change the policy, because there are people dying.”

But he said an inexperienced lawyer who took the case dropped it a year later without having filed anything. After hunting fruitlessly for a replacement, the family gave up.

“Just talking about it now, I’ve got goose bumps,” he added. “I’ve got rage and anger and sorrow at the same time.”

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