Immigrant Detainees Denied Adequate, Life-Saving Medical Care – (ICE PART TWO)

Prison
At least 200,000 men, women, and children are currently being detained in the US, and not a single one of them has been convicted of a crime. In fact, many have sought refuge in the US from torture, the ravages of war, or religious persecution. Many await hearings to determine if asylum will be granted. having nowhere else to turn, and heartened by our founding principals of individual liberty and justice, they have put their trust in the United States of America. Unfortunately, for too many, detainment in the US provides a new environment of helplessness and suffering.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) is under recent scrutiny following a spate of horrific reports that detainees have been denied adequate medical care. Charges include denying detainees medication for the treatment of long-standing conditions such as cancer, high-blood pressure, and AIDS, as well the refusal to acknowledge and/or treat infections and other ailments incurred or discovered while in detention. 62 people have died while being detained in the US since 2004, many as a result of ICE’s gross medical negligence. These deaths had remained concealed from the public until the ACLU petitioned ICE to release
the information in June 2007.

The DHS inspector general conducted a review of five immigrant detainee centers and, as reported in the
Washington Post,

Auditors found rodent and bug infestations, out-of-date law libraries, limited access to legal aid services, irregular medical care, undercooked chicken and filthy food trays.Medicalsymbolthumb49550

In July the ACLU briefed Congress on the conditions faced by detainees and called for improved and standardized medical practices in the detainment and deportment of immigrants.

They addressed the problem of the system itself:

Nearly 300,000 men, women, and children are detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) each year, the majority of whom have no criminal history whatsoever. Thousands arrived on our shores fleeing persecution and torture, only to be locked up like criminals in one of over 400 detention facilities around the country. Congress must ensure that detained immigrants receive treatment that reflects America‘s fundamental values.

Detained Immigrants Are Uniquely Vulnerable to Abuse and Poor Treatment
Survivors of torture, asylum-seekers, families with small children and individuals with serious mental health and medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS, are routinely locked up in jails or under jail-like conditions. Studies conducted by the bipartisan Commission on International Religious Freedom, New York University’s Bellevue Program, and Physicians for Human Rights have demonstrated that, even in well-run jails, detention itself poses a serious threat to the psychological health of the detainees. Without the right to appointed counsel and often detained in remote locations, detainees are unable to exercise fully what rights they do have.

There are no binding uniform detention standards that ensure the humane treatment of detainees. Detainees, including children, are often subjected to arbitrary punishment, including strip-searching
shackling; solitary confinement; neglect of basic medical and hygienic needs; denial of outdoor recreation; lack of access to phones, mail and legal resources; and verbal, physical and even sexual abuse.

It is the arbitrary nature of punishment and medical care that allows the abuses of power and medical neglect that have led to injury, disease, and death within detainee facilities.

Four months later, virtually nothing has been done to rectify these issues. In October 2007, the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law heard testimony in the hearing: “Detentionand Removal: Immigration Detainee Medical Care“.

Allen S. Keller, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, testified:

In June 2003, the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture and Physicians for Human Rights issued a report “From Persecution to Prison: The Health Consequences of Detention for Asylum Seekers.” In this study we interviewed 70 asylum seekers held in immigration detention.

We documented both high levels of psychological distress, which worsened during the course of detention, and inadequate or non-existent mental health services. We also documented difficulties accessing medical and dental services for painful and sometimes dangerous health problems.

Unfortunately, recent reports…demonstrate that the problems we identified with regards to accessing health care in immigration detention have not been corrected.

Keller points out that these immigrants come to the United States looking to build new lives and are often shocked to find themselves in prison with little idea how long they will be incarcerated. Most often immigrants are detained for months or years, during which they are denied basic rights and adequate care.

Keller documents specific cases such as:

• One detainee reported that while attending a peaceful demonstration in his country of origin, he suffered a gunshot wound to the groin. While in detention, his groin pain worsened. He reported being told that he would have to wait until he was released to have the bullet removed, but he remained in detention for 2½ years.
• A lump on the wrist was a source of pain and frustration for one detainee for several months. In his country, he previously had minor surgery to remove a lump on his wrist, which resulted from his hands had been tied with rope while being beaten. After fleeing his country, while in immigration detention, the growth recurred, even larger and morepainful. He was told he would have to wait for release to receive surgery for the condition. After 5 months in detention he was granted asylum and released.

All of the testimonies are well worth the read, especially that of 35-year old Fransisco Castenada, who was denied care for a cancerous legion on his penis. A biopsy of the legion was deemed “elective surgery” and he was denied further treatment. Castenada was released after ten months of agony, whereupon an oncologist told him he needed the surgical removal of his penis and aggressive chemotherapy. Immediately. Even still, the cancer had spread over those months to his lymph nodes and stomach and he does not expect to survive more than a few years.

Also, author Edwidge Danticat gives a moving account of her uncle’s death while in detention.

Check them out, you can even audio stream.

The response from ICE workers in facilities where care has been denied typically attribute the situation to lack of funds funds for medicine. Which is strange considering ICE funds the drugs it forcibly administers to
deportees.

NEXT: Part Three – ICE Forcibly Drugs Deportees

Further Reading:

Victoria Arellano: Shackled and Denied Life-Saving Medicine This immigrant was HIV-positive and denied medications that could have kept her healthy. She was dying of respiratory failure and finally attached to a respirator, where through her last days she remained shackled to the bed.

Open Letter to Julie Myers about the treatment of Ms. Arellano, signed by nearly 100 activist groups and CC’ed to 27 members of congress and homeland Chief Michael Chertoff.

Our Curious Immigration Laws – Comprehensive blog by Sonia Ansari, an immigration and citizenship attorney from Austin.

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