ACLU and Victims of Inadequate Medical Care in Immigration Detention Tell Congress to Prevent More Deaths

October 4, 2007 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union and victims of inadequate medical treatment in immigration detention facilities testified in Congress today urging more oversight of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in whose custody at least 65 people have died since 2004. According to the ACLU, inadequate medical care may be a leading cause of death in immigration detention. Activists, experts, victims of deficient medical care in ICE detention and relatives of people who died in ICE custody all testified, sharing harrowing stories and sobering facts.

“If our government insists on rounding people up and holding them, then the government must provide adequate medical care,” said Tom Jawetz, immigration detention staff attorney for the ACLU National Prison Project, who testified today. “Poor medical care in immigrant detention isn’t just ruining people’s lives – it’s extinguishing them – and Immigration and Customs Enforcement must be held accountable for the lives that have been destroyed.”

More than 62 people have died in ICE custody, including relatives of June Everett and Edwidge Danticat, who testified today about the inadequate medical care their relatives received. The roots of the problem are manifold. The government is not required to keep track of deaths in detention. Necessary medical care is often delayed or denied because of procedural barriers and medically unjustifiable health care policies.

Bureaucracy also plays a role in the cases of death, grave illness and mutilation that have happened in detention facilities. Francisco Castaneda, who testified today, had his genitalia surgically removed because during his 11 months in ICE detention, ICE would not permit him to have a biopsy for what was ultimately determined to be penile cancer. On-site medical personnel cannot provide necessary treatment for detainees like Castaneda unless and until they receive special permission from someone sitting in a Washington, D.C. office. The ACLU will work in the coming months to pass legislation addressing these barriers to adequate medical care for detainees.

“The problems are systemic, and they need a systemic solution,” said Max Sevillia, ACLU Legislative Consultant. “The government is putting immigrant detainees’ health and lives at risk because of improper medical care while in ICE facilities and legislation is urgently needed. Congress must act now to save the lives of detainees and to redeem those whose lives cannot be saved.”

To read today’s testimonies, listen to podcasts about inadequate medical care in immigration detention and learn more about the ACLU’s work to stop mistreatment in detention go to:

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