ACLU Applauds Menendez Legislation Calling for Standards Governing Basic Medical Care of Immigrant Detainees

May 21, 2008 12:00 am

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Contact: (202) 675-2312 or media@dcaclu.orgWASHINGTON, DC—The American Civil Liberties Union applauds Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) for his leadership to provide adequate medical care for detainees in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Menendez introduced the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act of 2008 (S.2005), a bill designed to ensure adequate medical care for all detainees held by ICE. The legislation, a companion to H.R. 5950, introduced by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), requires ICE to also report detainee deaths to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice Offices of Inspector General.

“Menendez and Lofgren’s legislation provides a clear cut solution to the horrendous actions by DHS to deny immigrant detainees access to basic medical care,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “When ICE takes a person into custody, it becomes responsible for that person’s basic human needs, as that person is now prohibited from meeting them on his or her own. This includes food, shelter and medical care. ICE is responsible for providing care that is consistent with our constitutional principles of fair and humane treatment.”

The ACLU’s National Prison Project has uncovered shameful and inexcusable inadequacies regarding medical treatment for immigration detainees, including extreme failures in medical care that have led to death and serious disfigurement. These problems are attributable to inadequate, bureaucratic policies that determine the level of care provided to ICE detainees.

“Menendez and Lofgren’s Detainee Basic Medical Care Act of 2008 is a strong first step towards ensuring those held in immigration detention are treated humanely and receive the medical care they need,” said Tom Jawetz, staff attorney for the ACLU National Prison Project. “In a country that prides itself as a beacon of freedom and democracy, the fact that ICE officials have refused to provide basic medical care to those in its custody should be seen as nothing less than shameful. Congress must pass this important and necessary legislation, and restore a modicum of humanity to our immigration detention system.”

According to recent news reports, since 2003 at least 83 people have died in custody or shortly after release. However, getting information or details about those who die in custody is a difficult undertaking, even for family members. Currently, no government body is charged with accounting for deaths in ICE detention, a patchwork of county jails, privately run prisons and federal facilities.

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For more information:

“Careless Detention: In Custody, In Pain,” Washington Post, May 12, 2008:

“Better Health Care Sought for Detained Immigrants” New York Times, May 7, 2008:

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