A report by federal inspectors documents numerous examples of immigrants detained in ICE facilities, which are often operated by independent contractors, receiving inadequate medical care and violation of their human rights. Many of the detainees are kept in prison-like conditions even though most do not have criminal records.
In Michigan, a man in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was sent into a jail’s general population unit with an open wound from surgery, without bandages and with no scheduled medical appointment scheduled for post-surgical followup, even though he still had surgical drains in place.
A federal inspector wrote: “The detainee never received even the most basic care for his wound.”
In Georgia, a nurse ignored an ICE detainee who urgently asked for an inhaler to treat his asthma. Even though he was never examined by the medical staff, the nurse put a note in the medical record that “he was seen in sick call.”
“The documentation by the nurse bordered on falsification and the failure to see a patient urgently requesting medical attention regarding treatment with an inhaler was negligent.”
And in Pennsylvania, a group of correctional officers strapped a mentally ill male ICE detainee into a restraint chair and gave the lone female officer a pair of scissors to cut off his clothes for a strip search.
“There is no justifiable correctional reason that required the detainee who had a mental health condition to have his clothes cut off by a female officer while he was compliant in a restraint chair. This is a barbaric practice and clearly violates … basic principles of humanity.”
These findings are all part of a trove of more than 1,600 pages of previously secret inspection reports written by experts hired by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. In examining more than two dozen facilities across 16 states from 2017 to 2019, these expert inspectors found “negligent” medical care (including mental health care), “unsafe and filthy” conditions, racist abuse of detainees, inappropriate pepper-spraying of mentally ill detainees and other problems that, in some cases, contributed to detainee deaths.
These reports almost never become public.
For more than three years, the federal government — under both the Trump and Biden administrations — fought NPR’s efforts to obtain those records. That opposition continued despite a Biden campaign promise to “demand transparency in and independent oversight over ICE.”
The records were obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by NPR. After two years, a federal judge found that the government had violated the nation’s public records law and ordered the release of the documents.
The reports provide an unprecedented look at the ICE detention system through the eyes of experts hired to investigate complaints of civil rights abuses, who provide an often unvarnished perspective. These experts have specific expertise in subjects such as medicine, mental health, use of force and environmental health. Sources familiar with these inspections tell NPR that they often uncover problems that other government inspectors miss.
“These reports are chilling. They are damning,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project and an expert on ICE detention, when NPR shared the reports’ findings. “They really show how the government’s own inspectors can see the abuses and the level of abuses that are happening in ICE detention.”
The main goal of ICE detention is to make sure immigrants show up for their court dates. But the conditions revealed in the inspection reports often appear indistinguishable from prison.
The inspectors found what they described as racist harassment of immigrants and retaliation against detainees who filed complaints.
“Examples of mistreatment include a Sergeant entering the female unit and greeting the female detainees by yelling, ‘Hello a**holes and bitches,'” an inspector found at the Orange County Jail in Goshen, New York. “Multiple staff make comments such as, if detainees do not like the treatment, they should not have come to our country. A [correctional officer] working in a male unit confronted a group of detainees stating, ‘Who’s the f***ing p**** who made the complaint against me?'”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office did not answer NPR’s questions for this story.
At the Calhoun County Correctional Facility in Battle Creek, Mich., an inspector found that the jail staff was locking mentally ill detainees in restraint chairs without justification and using pepper spray when it was not warranted.
“The use of chemical agents or Use of Force with mentally ill detainees, who because of their mental illness are unable to conform their behavior, has been opined as a violation of constitutional rights in Florida and California,” the inspector wrote.
The Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office referred NPR’s questions about this report to ICE.
The most consistent — and sometimes deadly — problems relate to medical and mental health care.
Experts told NPR that prisons and jails often fail to provide adequate care to people who are locked up. ICE detention, they say, is even more problematic because detainees are frequently transferred between facilities, which increases the odds that medical records and care plans fail to move with people, and because the facilities are often located in remote areas that lack access to high-quality health care.
Source: NPR News.