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Friday, June 29, 2007

She turned her life around: Drug-free years and a medication error

Sandra Kenley worked for 11 years in a newspaper mailroom as a legal permanent resident of the U.S., having come from Barbados more than 30 years ago. But then drug addiction derailed her life. She was convicted of drug possession in 1984, and in 2002 for trying to buy a small amount of cocaine—another misdemeanor.

But then she turned her life around, after probation and treatment. She completed a nursing course, and got legal custody of her baby granddaughter, Nakita.

She returned to visit Barbados in 2005 to show off her grand-daughter, then one year old. On returning with Nakita, at Washington’s Dulles Airport, an airport database showed the convictions, and she was ordered to meet with an immigration inspector.

At the meeting, she told her story, and showed she was taking blood pressure medication and was scheduled for surgery. The inspector arrested her, as her two convictions made her subject to exclusion from the U.S.

She was imprisoned in Pamunkey Regional Jail in rural Hanover, Virginia. She died there a few weeks later, having complained that she had not been receiving her blood pressure medication. An autopsy attributed her death to an enlarged heart from chronic high blood pressure ("hypertensive disease").

Sandra was one of 62 immigrants to die in administrative custody since 2004, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration detention is the fastest growing form of incarceration.

Advice to family members of medical error victims: Tell your story to journalists and bloggers to help warn others.

Read another of our detainee stories, or read Nina Bernstein’s source story on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times.

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