Lawsuit Over Detention Death of French National to go to Jury

A New York federal judge refused to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Irene Bamenga, a French national who was trying to return to France before she was detained for 12 days on immigration violations, held in New York county jails, and deprived of critical heart medications.

As reported in the Boston Globe, Bamenga, 29, who was living with her husband in Lynn, Massachusetts, died in custody despite numerous pleas for her medication. She was the subject of a 2012 Boston Globe series, “Justice in the Shadows,” which highlighted the secrecy of the U.S’s immigration system.

The decision by U.S. Senior Judge Thomas McAvoy allows the wrongful death and civil rights claims of Bamenga’s husband, Yodi Zikianda, to be brought before a jury. It also validates Zikianda’s years-long effort to have the case proceed, according to his lawyers.

“This is a hugely significant day in the long history of the Irene Bamenga case, and an equally significant one in the long quest of Irene’s husband, Yodi, to vindicate the memory of the wife whom he loved deeply,” said Alex MacDonald, of the MacDonald Law Group, who is one of Zikianda’s lawyers.

The lawsuit names the Albany County Correctional Facility in New York and Bamenga’s health care providers, among others, for her wrongful death in June 2011.

In 2011, Bamenga tried to cross the border into Canada so she could return to France, where she planned to resolve her U.S. immigration status. However, she was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents for having an expired visa, a civil violation.

Bamenga already had a plane ticket to return to France, but federal agents held her in a prison despite her complaints that she had congestive heart disease and needed medication.