Rights Groups Call on Homeland Security Department To Investigate Death of HIV-Positive Person at Immigration Detention Center
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Human Rights Watch in a letter sent on Monday to the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General called on the department to investigate the death of an HIV-positive inmate at a San Pedro, Calif., immigration detention center, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to the letter, the homeland security department should investigate the death of Victor Arellano -- who was transgender and went by the name Victoria --on the grounds that Arellano was denied vital medical care. The letter also called on the department to look into the apparent transfer of more than 20 detainees who saw the events leading up to Arellano's death to other facilities, according to the Times (Krikorian/Vara-Orta, Los Angeles Times, 8/29).
Arellano's family plans to file a wrongful death suit against the U.S. government that claims Arellano was denied vital medical treatment while in custody. Attorneys for Arellano's family say that while in custody, Arellano's condition deteriorated to the point that fellow detainees urged staff to provide medical care. Roman Silberfeld, the family's attorney, said that 70 detainees signed a petition urging that Arellano receive medical attention. When Arellano's condition became critical, Arellano was transferred to a San Pedro hospital and died several days later (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/13).
According to HRW researcher Megan McLemore, who visited the San Pedro facility on Aug. 22 and was one of the letter's authors, she visited the facility to interview two other HIV-positive inmates and Arellano's cellmates as part of a report. When she arrived at the facility, McLemore said that she discovered more than 20 witnesses, all of whom had signed the petition, had been transferred. According to HRW, the transfers occurred less than 24 hours before McLemore's visit.
HRW and the ACLU chapter in the letter wrote that witnesses said Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff at the San Pedro facility did not respond in a timely manner to the "numerous and increasingly desperate requests for urgent medical care" for Arellano. "Detainees have alleged that despite being aware that Arellano was a person with HIV who was in need of life-sustaining medication, (the San Pedro facility's) medical care providers did not provide the appropriate care, causing Arellano needless suffering and ultimately leading to his tragic and painful death," the letter said.
A spokesperson for Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said that two unrelated deaths at federal detention centers this year have prompted an investigation by the Office of Inspector General into the quality of medical care at such facilities. Waxman's office earlier this month approached the homeland security's Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to inquire if Arellano's death could be investigated, the spokesperson added. The agency has not responded, according to the Times.
Virginia Kice, an ICE spokesperson, said that privacy laws prevent the agency from discussing treatment details. She added that the agency spends more than $98 million annually on medical services for detainees. In addition, detainees in ICE custody undergo medical screenings, and those with acute or chronic medical needs are referred to a health care provider, Kice said, adding that detainees with infectious diseases are put in health care facilities. The "public must realize that when individuals come into ICE custody with severe health problems or terminal illnesses, regardless of the treatment they receive, there is the potential that they will succumb to their condition," Kice said.
Arellano's death has "sparked an outcry among immigration rights officials and organizations that monitor the health of prisoners in federal and state facilities nationwide," according to the Times. About 30,000 undocumented immigrants are in detention facilities throughout the U.S. (Los Angeles Times, 8/29).