Shameful Medical Treatment of Immigrant Detainees

The Washington Post has conducted an investigation into medical care at U.S. detention centers housing immigration violators. Its conclusion:

Some 83 detainees have died in, or soon after, custody during the past five years. The deaths are the loudest alarms about a system teetering on collapse. Actions taken -- or not taken -- by medical staff members may have contributed to 30 of those deaths, according to confidential internal reviews and the opinions of medical experts who reviewed some death files for The Post.

According to an analysis by The Post, most of the people who died were young. Thirty-two of the detainees were younger than 40, and only six were 70 or older. The deaths took place at dozens of sites across the country. The most at one location was six at the San Pedro compound near Los Angeles.


In conducting the examination, the Post examined:

thousands of pages of government documents ... They include autopsy and medical records, investigative reports, notes, internal e-mails, and memorandums. These documents, along with interviews with current and former immigration medical officials and staff members, illuminate the underside of the hasty governmental reorganization that took place in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

How did we get here?

After Sept. 11, the Bush administration transferred responsibility for border security and deportation to the new Department of Homeland Security, which gave it to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) -- a reconfiguration of the decades-old Immigration and Naturalization Service -- in 2003, the year the Post used as the starting point for counting detainee deaths. Each year since, the number of detainees picked up for deportation or waiting behind bars for political asylum has skyrocketed, increasing by 65 percent since July 2005.

As for where these detainees are being held:

These way stations between life in and outside the United States are mostly out of sight: in deserts and industrial warehouse districts, in sequestered valleys next to other prisons, or near noisy airports. Some compounds never allow detainees outdoor recreation; others let them out onto tiny dirt patches once or twice a week.

But they have lawyers, right? No.

Detainees are not guaranteed free legal representation, and only about one in 10 has an attorney. When lawyers get involved, they often have difficulty prying medical information out of the bureaucracy -- or even finding clients, who are routinely moved without notice.

Since 2001, more than 300,000 immigrants have been subjected to detention. There are insufficient resources allotted to their medical care. And, the bureacracy involved in getting medical help is intensive and cumbersome:

When doctors and nurses at the immigration compounds believe that detainees need more than the most basic treatment, they have to fax a request to the Washington office, where four nurses, working 9 to 4, East Coast time, five days a week, make the decisions.

Agency officials, doctors and medical staff are nervous about liability. They should be.

"Dogs get better care in the dog pound," said Catherine Rouse, a contract nurse at an Arizona detention center who quit after two months last year because she saw what she regarded as "scary medicine" in the prison: patients taken off medications they needed and nurses doing tasks they were not qualified to do. "You don't treat people like that. "

I'm just scratching the surface of the article, I hope you will read the whole thing.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Uhg (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by squeaky on Sun May 11, 2008 at 08:32:35 PM EST
     I hope that the families who have lost loved ones sue the US for negligent homicide. At this point I will have no sympathy if any of the BUshCO creeps get arrested on foreign soil, for crimes against humanity. Of course it would be better to see them face their criminal actions here, but I am not holding my breath on that one.

    Truly disgusting!! (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by athyrio on Sun May 11, 2008 at 08:45:24 PM EST

    This can't happen in the US (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Marvin42 on Sun May 11, 2008 at 10:13:45 PM EST
    Right? Right? Because if it really happened there would be rioting in the streets, people would rise up against the government, because we are a fair and just society.

    How did heck did we get here? (Rhetorical)

    This only gets 5 comments? (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by catfish on Mon May 12, 2008 at 02:05:36 AM EST
    This is insane. Absolutely insane. Bought lunch from a taco truck today, practiced my Espanol with the proprietor. He's terrified to return to Mexico because of the drug war spreading there. Contractors from Iraq are infiltrating Mexico with weapons, 10-year-old boys walk around flush with cash and plenty of product to sell, he told me in his broken English. Also warriors bleeding over from Columbia.  A big web. Police chief of Mexico City murdered, retaliations, 108 people killed in the last 3 days. He repeated that last stat with big eyes: 108 people killed in the last 3 days.

    This was a soft-spoken skinny young tacqueria operator.

    It his country that's in trouble (1.00 / 1) (#15)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon May 12, 2008 at 10:00:36 AM EST
    Why doesn't he go home and help?

    The answer is, of course, his country has treated him so poorly that he has no loyalty to it, so he comes to America where he has no loyalty since he is illegal.

    A nasty mess that can only be fixed by closing the borders, making Mexico fix her own problems and figure out a way to help the illegals here.


    He's a happy guy (none / 0) (#19)
    by catfish on Mon May 12, 2008 at 12:37:42 PM EST
    Many in the Latino community are still happy to have opportunity here. They know we have our minutemen crazies but we also have people like us. And there are enough of them here they have a community.

    I don't see much self-pity in this crowd.


    I understand he is happy. (none / 0) (#20)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue May 13, 2008 at 10:01:13 AM EST
    I also understand that illegal aliens are depressing wages, hurting working conditions and taking jobs of US citizens.

    And as long as we will let Mexico send their problems to us they won't reform.

    Close the borders, stop the influx and figure out what to do with the ones here are the only logical actions to take.


    We should work with Mexico (none / 0) (#21)
    by catfish on Wed May 14, 2008 at 01:15:00 PM EST
    to create a job-magnet there. They do not want to leave their families there, they'd like to stay. And Mexico is being drained of their best and brightest and most striving because they migrate El Norte.

    If those talented resourceful people could stay in Mexico, they could create jobs and cut down on crime.


    and this comes as a surprise (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by cpinva on Mon May 12, 2008 at 02:14:34 AM EST
    to anyone?

    The deaths are the loudest alarms about a system teetering on collapse.

    the bush administration is distinguished solely by its incompetence, in just about anything it touches, except for reducing taxes on the wealthy, and environmental, health/safety and labor regulations on its corporate benefactors.

    aside from that, and they make some dictatorships look good by comparison.

    should the next president be a democrat, it will take years to fix what the bush administration, and their cronies in congress, have destroyed.

    I too (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by kenoshaMarge on Mon May 12, 2008 at 05:02:19 AM EST
    watched the piece on "60 Minutes" and was appalled. But then I feel that way so often.

    Perhaps all the things we now do as if we had some high minded moral authority to do anything to protect ourselves would seem more real if we stopped with the PC language.

    The people that died in custody weren't "detainees"; they were prisoners. People held against their will. If we have to dress our actions up in fancy language then we know that what we're doing isn't right.

    What possible threat did ICE see from an 81 year old Baptist minister fleeing the violence in Haiti? Seems there was not only a lack of medical people; there was a lack of people with common sense and decency.

    We now live in a country where the possibility of the necessity of "torturing" prisoners is discussed as if there could ever be time when it was the right thing to do.  

    If we are not ashamed, we ought to be. These are not the actions of a "land of the free and the brave". These are the actions of a frightened bunch of cowards that justify their immoral treatment of others in the name of security.

    well marge, (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by cpinva on Mon May 12, 2008 at 06:22:55 AM EST
    everything changed on 9/11, remember? everyone and thing is a possible islamic terrorist. they're hiding behind every tree, up your block and down your street. you just can't be too careful.

    sometimes in a (undeclared) war, there is collateral (unarmed civilians get blown away) damage. we try to minimize (hope no one notices) it, but it happens.


    Lots of things (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by kenoshaMarge on Mon May 12, 2008 at 07:53:46 AM EST
    changed on 9/11 all right. Evidently our ethics, integrity and sense of decency were among the first things jettisoned.

    I especially liked the comment on 60 Minutes last night that seemed to say "so what, we treat our own citizens that are incarcerated just as bad."

    Now doesn't that make ya feel all better about things? /snark and double /snark.


    There are many things (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by kenoshaMarge on Mon May 12, 2008 at 07:56:32 AM EST
    that are shameful in our system and our country. Discussing one doesn't mean others aren't important. But I have always believed that the way we treat "prisoners", people that are held against their will, says a lot about us. And what it's saying is not flattering. To any of us.

    We should all find the fact that in this country our health care system is tied to profit disgusting and immoral. Until we do, an insist that our elected officials do nothing will change.

    Unbelievable.... (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by kdog on Mon May 12, 2008 at 09:50:41 AM EST
    and if we let all these human being go, what will happen exactly?  More lawns get mowed and more dishes get washed?  Oh the horror...

    Garghhrr. The US is losing whatever (1.00 / 1) (#5)
    by LHinSeattle on Sun May 11, 2008 at 10:48:32 PM EST
    moral standing it had left in the world.

    And if BHO gets elected, will he keep talking about how the Repubs have better ideas on some policies ... like regulations? Pesky regulations that could make detainees get treated humanely.


    This is a much larger story (none / 0) (#3)
    by Kropotkin on Sun May 11, 2008 at 08:49:34 PM EST
    60 Minutes has a good segment tonight on deaths in immigrant detention, riffing off the WaPo story.  This week the PBS NOW program did a great piece on for-profit prisons.  The featured Otay Mesa prison as well as the Elizabeth NJ prison are both run by the Corrections Corporation of America, CCA.  

    Check this website for more info:  www.privateci.org

    what is the % (none / 0) (#13)
    by Jlvngstn on Mon May 12, 2008 at 08:22:17 AM EST
    of those who have died vs those held prisoner? What is an acceptable standard? HRC beats the heck out of China for this kind of death rate. Do they really hate us because of our "freedom"?

    The WashPost's story (none / 0) (#17)
    by camellia on Mon May 12, 2008 at 11:08:35 AM EST
    dwells at some length on the case of a woman who is a legal US resident, married to an American citizen.  Not everyone who is being held is an illegal immigrant, and not everyone is from Mexico.   I will guarantee you that the anger and resentment about this treatment are worldwide--"the home of the free and the land of the brave" ..... it is shaming.

    I am a naturalized US citizen; I have a slight accent when speaking English (I am a native speaker, but grew up in another English-speaking country), and have decided that I need to carry my passport and/or naturalization certificate with me now.  For a couple of years, I taught classes for immigrants who want to become citizens.  I stopped two years ago when I felt I could no longer stand in front of all those hopeful faces and talk about the Constitution, freedom of speech, the right to petition the government, and (most important) the right to vote.  

    This is NOT the country I came to 47 years ago.  

    Humanity (none / 0) (#18)
    by Leisa on Mon May 12, 2008 at 11:42:57 AM EST
    has turned upside down.  People  south of our border all the way down to South America risk everything so they can have a better life here for their families.  They are exploited, robbed, left to die by coyotes and even certain "policemen" in Mexico...  They endure so much just to get here and then our government and immigration laws treat them like the worst of criminals.

    My heart breaks for these people.  

    I think this should serve as a warning to us all.  How easy it is to justify treating others badly. First, one must somehow feel superior to them. Second, you must somehow strip them of their humanity by calling them criminals or other labels so they can justify exploiting them.  

    I hope we can find a remedy for these problems.  I think it starts with addressing the problems in the countries these people will risk everything to leave.  The risk so much, leave their families behind to find work in the United States.  These people deserve compassion from our country and our citizens.