DHS Immigration Bureau Officials Misrepresented Information About Medical Care For Immigrant Detainees at Federal Detention Centers, Advocates Say
Advocates for detained immigrants in the U.S. said that federal officials at a House hearing this month misrepresented the standard of medical care given to immigrants held at federal detention centers, CQ HealthBeat reports (Webber, CQ HealthBeat, 6/17). The Washington Post in May published a four-part series on the "broken system of care" in detention centers for foreigners awaiting deportation. The articles revealed that 83 detainees had died in detention centers since the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was created five years ago (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 6/5).
At a House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee hearing on June 4, Julie Myers, assistant secretary of the ICE bureau at Department of Homeland Security, said that the agency's health care system focuses on emergency care, and that other medical conditions "the local treating physicians believe would cause suffering or deterioration of a detainee's health are also assessed and evaluated through the (Department of Immigrant Health Services Managed Care Program)." However, advocates say that Myers' description excluded the deportation standard that DIHS sets for treating detained immigrants with chronic conditions and that immigration officials misstated the quality of health care detainees are offered.
Tom Javits, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, said that Gary Mead, assistant director for management at the ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations, during a subcommittee hearing in October 2007 also misrepresented the nonemergency care standard. Javits said, "What I find most troubling ... is that it is the second time now that ICE has been called to testify before Congress on the issue of medical care in detention, and it's also the second time that it has misrepresented the standard."
According to Javits, language in the DIHS managed care benefit package states that the department's "mission is tied directly to deportation rather than ensuring that people receive all necessary health care." The package offers guidelines on the types of nonemergency conditions that would qualify for treatment by external medical care providers and would be reimbursed by the government. The benefit states that "other medical conditions which the physician believes, if left untreated during the period of ICE/[Border Patrol] custody, would cause deterioration of the detainee's health or uncontrolled suffering affecting his/her deportation status will be assessed and evaluated for care."
ICE spokesperson Kelly Nantel on Monday dismissed the claims that agency officials had made misrepresentations and misstatements at the hearing. Nantel said, "If a detainee has some sort of illness that is emergent and medical professionals make medical recommendations, we certainly don't get in the way." However, she said, "We are in the deportation business ... Obviously, our goal is to remove individuals ordered to be removed from our country," adding, "We address their health care issues to make sure they are medically able to travel and medically able to return to their country" (CQ HealthBeat, 6/17).