ACLU Welcomes Detainee Basic Medical Care Act

May 13, 2008 12:00 am

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Applauds Senator Menendez for Introducing Vital Legislation

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union applauds Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) for introducing the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act of 2008. This legislation requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop procedures to ensure adequate medical care for all detainees held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The legislation also requires ICE to report detainee deaths to the DHS and Department of Justice Offices of Inspector General.

“The government’s failure to provide adequate medical care to immigrants held in its custody is not just inhumane, but is also a betrayal of our constitutional principles,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Waiting for this long overdue legislation, far too many immigration detainees have needlessly suffered and died while DHS denied them much needed medical care.”

Menendez’s bill is a companion to H.R. 5950, introduced last week by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). Both Lofgren and Menendez should be commended for offering a solution to the horrendous actions by DHS to deny immigrant detainees access to basic health care.

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 efforts resulted in the U.S. government admitting its responsibility for the death of a detained Salvadoran immigrant, Francisco Castaneda, a former ACLU client who was featured on 60 Minutes and in the Washington Post. Mr. Castaneda was repeatedly denied adequate medical care and later died as a result.

Currently, no government body is charged with accounting for deaths in ICE detention, a patchwork of county jails, privately run prisons and federal facilities. Getting details about those who die in custody is a difficult undertaking left to family members, advocacy groups and the media. Since 2003, at least 83 people have died in immigration custody.

More than 300,000 men, women and children are detained by ICE each year. They include asylum seekers, long-time green card holders with minor immigration violations and families with small children.

“This important legislation would ensure that immigration detainees receive treatment that reflects America’s fundamental values,” added Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Congress must provide oversight to ensure that immigrant detainees receive fair and just treatment, including the critical medical care they need.”

The ACLU commends the reporters and news outlets who have shined some sunlight on this long-neglected issue. The Washington Post is running a four-part series on the lack of medical care for detainees in U.S. custody – many of them for minor immigration related offenses. CBS’ 60 Minutes aired a story on the problem this past Sunday night. And the New York Times has also covered this compelling story recently.

For more information on the ACLU’s efforts to improve conditions and due process for immigrants in detention, visit: /immigrants/detention/index.html

Yesterday’s Washington Post story, “Careless Detention: In Custody, In Pain” can be found at:

Sunday’s 60 Minutes segment, “Detention in America” can be found at: 60minutes/main4083279.shtml

New York Times article “Better Health Care Sought for Detained Immigrants” can be found at:

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