Reports Criticize Health Care at U.S. Immigration Detention Centers
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency routinely delays, denies or provides low-quality medical care for detained immigrants in ill-equipped facilities nationwide, according to two reports released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports. According to the reports, the poor care results from unskilled or indifferent staff members at detention centers, overcrowding in facilities, bureaucracy, language barriers and limited services available to detainees. According to the Human Rights Watch study, detention centers provided inadequate routine reproductive care for women because ICE's health care system emphasizes emergency care and treating conditions that might affect deportation status. Current and former detainees said that medical staff members routinely violated their own standards in areas such as continuity of care, swift response to medical problems, explanation of services available to immigrants, medical screenings and follow-up care.
The advocacy groups said many of the medical problems could be avoided if ICE did not detain people who are elderly, have health problems or do not have criminal records. Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, said, "ICE needlessly detains people with severe illnesses and those who pose no harm to U.S. communities." She added, "Doing so drives up ICE costs, even as the agency provides increasingly inadequate medical and mental health care to those in its custody." Advocates say that alternatives to detention, such as requiring immigrants to check in by phone or in person, could cost $12 per day, compared with detention, which costs about $95 per day. The agency detained more than 300,000 people in fiscal year 2007, with a daily average of 30,000 in custody. Some detainees are held for months or years, but ICE said the average time is 31 days.
ICE responded that its health services division provides detainees general, emergency, dental, chronic and mental health care (Kay, AP/Houston Chronicle, 3/17).
The Human Rights Watch report is available online. The FIAC report also is available online (.pdf).
NPR's "All Things Considered" examined the reports and specific cases of mistreatment of immigrants. The segment includes comments from Barciela, researcher Meghan Rhoad and immigrant Marlene Jaggernauth (Allen, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/17).