New Legislation Would Require Mandatory Federal Standards for Physical, Mental Health Care for Detained Immigrants
House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) on Tuesday announced that she has introduced a bill (HR 5950) to establish mandatory standards for medical care for immigrants in detention centers, the New York Times reports. The legislation, introduced late last week, would require the federal government to establish mandatory standards for physical and mental health care to replace the voluntary standards that currently apply to the more than 300 federally and privately operated detention centers where the government holds immigrants who face possible deportation.
In addition, the bill would require the Department of Homeland Security secretary to report all deaths at the jails to the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Justice, as well as the DHS Office of Inspector General, within 48 hours. The legislation also would require Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to submit a comprehensive report on all such deaths annually to Congress.
According to data obtained by the Times, ICE in fiscal year 2004 detained 231,804 immigrants, of which one out of every 9,200 died. In FY 2007, ICE detained 311,213 immigrants, of which about one out of every 28,000 died. ICE officials said that the agency in FY 2007 spent $91.6 million on health care at the detention centers, an 82% increase from FY 2004.
Lofgren said of the bill, "This is about whether the government is conducting itself according to the basic minimum standards of civilization," adding, "Many of those in immigration custody are there for minor violations, many for administrative and paperwork-related mistakes. Their detention should not be a death sentence."
ICE officials declined to comment on the legislation. Kelly Nantel, a spokesperson for ICE, said, "While a single death of an ICE detainee is a serious matter, we strive to maintain safe, secure and human detention conditions and to ensure that all detainees receive quality health care" (Bernstein/Preston, New York Times, 5/7).