ICE's Medical Neglect is Killing Immigrant Detainees

Kate Brown
ICE has been effectively killing their immigration detainees by ignoring their medical needs—and then shoving the evidence of neglect under the rug.


Despite the reforms that President Barack Obama made to the US immigrant detention facilities, completely avoidable deaths are still happening regularly among the detainees.

A report produced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Detention Watch Network (DWN), and National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) looked at these deaths “and the agency’s response to them.”

Their research found that ICE was unable to comply with their own medical standards even when Office of Detention Oversight (ODO) inspections identified these violations of medical standards as “contributing factors in these deaths.”

“Our research shows that even though ICE conducted reviews that identified violations of medical standards as contributing factors in these deaths, routine ICE detention facility inspections before and after the deaths failed to acknowledge—or at times dismissed—these violations,” the report states. "Instead of forcing changes in culture, systems, and processes that could reduce future deaths, ICE’s deficient inspections system essentially swept the agency’s own death review findings under the rug.”


Jennifer Chan, the associate director of policy at NIJC and coauthor of the report, told Vice News, “It doesn’t seem possible for ICE to police itself. Independent oversight and accountability is needed.”

The report specifically highlights eight deaths that took place between 2010 and 2012 in which ICE associated non-compliance with its own medical standards as contributing to the deaths of the patients, four of which were deemed “preventable” by the agency.

One prime example of this injustice: Pablo Gracida-Conte, a detainee at Arizona’s Eloy Detention Center

According to Think Progress:

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.

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“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,” Chan explained according to Think Progress during a teleconference on Thursday.

While there have been upwards of 56 deaths in ICE custody during the Obama administration, these incidences of abuse, malpractice, neglect, death, and suicide have run rampant for as long as ICE-contracted detention centers have been around.

In fact, “numerous immigrants launched hunger strikes in various detention facilities” in an attempt to bring attention to the horrible medical and dental practices in the facilities—all to no avail.

"Being held in immigration detention should not be a death sentence," Chan said. "The Obama administration promised to make reforms to address the high number of deaths that happened in detention, and although the number has decreased... that doesn't mean that current deaths don't matter."

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