ICE Ignores Immigrants’ Medical Needs In Detention Centers Until They Die

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo, File

FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2016 file photo, a demonstrator carries a mock coffin, representing migrants who have died, outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Eloy, Ariz. ICE has for years provided subpar medical care at its detention facilities, leading to in-custody deaths, a new report by a coalition of advocacy groups found. The report by the ACLU, Detention Watch Network and National Immigrant Justice Center examined reports filed by an ICE review board in charge of investigating detention deaths and conducting facility inspections. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo, File)

Between 2010 and 2012, eight people died from inadequate medical care while held in detention facilities operated by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, according to a scathing report from three immigrant rights organizations.

The report, entitled Fatal Neglect: How ICE Ignores Deaths in Detention, examined how ICE failed to comply with the agency’s own medical standards even after routine reviews identified violations of medical standards “as contributing factors in these deaths.” Inspections conducted before and after detainee deaths failed to acknowledge serious flaws. In all but one of the eight cases, facilities received passing ratings even when Office of Detention Oversight (ODO) inspections found they failed to meet proper medical care standards.

The report was a collaborative production by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Detention Watch Network (DWN), and the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC).

Pablo Gracida-Conte, a detainee at Arizona’s Eloy Detention Center, was likely an example of a preventable fatality, according to the report. He died of cardiomyopathy, a treatable disease of the heart muscle.

For four months, Gracida-Conte requested medical treatment for ongoing health issues like vomiting after every meal and extreme upper abdominal pain, but he didn’t receive timely care. Eloy staff couldn’t communicate with him since he spoke Mixteco; even though they had access to telephonic interpreters, they never obtained one. After his death, the ODO death investigator did not cite Eloy as non-compliant with ICE standards related to interpretation assistance. The facility even passed its inspections after his death.

“Remarkably, the Office of Detention Oversight inspection claimed that Mr. Gracida’s death was the first death to ever occur at Eloy when, in fact, it was the tenth death at the facility,” Jennifer Chan, Associate Director of Policy with the National Immigrant Justice Center, pointed out on a teleconference on Thursday.

Advocates have given Eloy the grim distinction of being the “deadliest immigration detention center in America.” The Eloy detention facility has reported 14 deaths since 2004, including several suicides.

Anibal Ramirez-Ramirez, a Salvadoran national, died seven days after entering ICE custody and five days after being processed in a privately operated Immigration Centers of America-Farmville (ICAF) in Virginia. He experienced various medical issues like vomiting, involuntary bowel movements, and extreme disorientation, but his symptoms weren’t communicated between facilities.

Non-medical facility staff allegedly interfered with medical recommendations from one nurse who tried to take his vital signs. When she was finally allowed to do so, she discovered that Ramirez-Ramirez’s heart rate was “perilously high” and recommended that he be transferred to emergency care. Corrections staff decided to wait for his doctor’s appointment 14 hours later instead. By the time of his doctor’s appointment, Ramirez-Ramirez was found dead.

An ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) inspection concluded that ICAF didn’t meet standards, but it still received a passing rating for its medical care.

There have otherwise been 56 deaths in ICE custody during the Obama administration. But issues of detainee abuse and deaths among immigrant detainees have long persisted in ICE-contracted detention facilities. At least ten men filed a complaint last year against the Theo Lacy facility in California, alleging physical abuse, medical neglect, and retaliatory transfers. And last year, numerous immigrants launched hunger strikes in various detention facilities calling for better medical and dental care.