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Detained immigrants, groups sue ICE, DHS for inadequate medical care, disability accommodations

By: - August 21, 2019 5:04 pm

Florence Correctional Center in Florence, Ariz. Photo via Facebook

Immigrants with disabilities and medical and mental health conditions and two California immigrant-rights groups have sued the federal government for failing to provide health care and disability accommodations at its 158 immigration detention facilities nationwide, in violation of constitutional and statutory requirements. 

The class action lawsuit was filed Monday in a federal district court in Los Angeles. It claims immigration detention centers “place the mental and physical health of detained people at grave risk, deny them reasonable accommodations, and otherwise subject them to discrimination on the basis of disability.” 

The lawsuit involves 14 immigrants detained at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia and Louisiana. The Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice and Al Otro Lado, two California community groups that support immigrants in detention, are also plaintiffs. 

The lawsuit names ICE and U.S. Department of Homeland Security leadership as defendants. 

The immigrants suing have been diagnosed with medical conditions like diabetes, cerebral palsy, chronic pain, hypertension, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to the complaint. Others also are deaf, hard of hearing or blind and require disability accommodations. They claim they have been denied treatment and medication, and some were placed in solitary confinement, which aggravates their mental health. 

One plaintiff, Ruben Dario Mencias Soto, uses crutches and a wheelchair to move and had those aids taken from until his lawyer intervened. Another former detainee, Hamida Ali, has schizophrenia and was placed in solitary confinement for eight months, exacerbating her condition, the lawsuit claims. Another man, Jose Baca Hernandez, is blind but wasn’t given accommodations and has relied on other detainees to read documents to him. 

As of December 31, 2018, ICE had 47,486 individuals in its custody, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. 

A large majority of detained immigrants, 63%, have no criminal record, according to TRAC. About one in five immigrants in detention have been convicted of minor violations like illegal entry into the country (a misdemeanor), traffic offenses and driving under the influence, according to TRAC data. 

Immigration detention isn’t meant to be punitive, the lawsuit alleges, but those detained at these facilities face “brutal conditions and punitive practices.” 

“Plaintiffs and the Class are routinely denied access to crucial medical and mental health care, refused necessary accommodations for their disabilities, and subjected to near-constant isolation,” the complaint states. “Viewed in their totality, these brutal conditions and punitive practices evince that conditions in the Detention Facilities are indistinguishable from—and often worse than—jails and prisons.”

The complaint asks the court to intervene so ICE and DHS don’t continue to subject immigrants it detains to “this unconstitutional and unlawful treatment.”

The lawsuit alleges ICE and DHS are aware of the “systemic unlawful conditions of confinement are rampant among its” detention facilities. 

Both DHS’s own Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Government Accountability Office have repeatedly pointed to problematic procuring procedures, and lack of meaningful monitoring and accountability mechanisms for contractors of immigration detention. 

“Defendants have consistently and repeatedly failed to take any effective steps to monitor, oversee, and administer Detention Facilities, and to ensure that these violations do not recur,” the complaint states. “Defendants have thus condoned or been deliberately indifferent to the conduct that results in these unlawful conditions of confinement.”

The detained plaintiffs

  1. Faour Abdullah Fraihat, 57, is detained at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in California. He uses a wheelchair. He lost vision in his left eye while detained at Adelanto, and ICE didn’t provide a surgery recommended by an off-site doctor. He also experienced back pain issues. He was denied a wheelchair for more than a year and thus couldn’t use the yard or go to the cafeteria for meals. 
  2. Marco Montoya Amaya, 41, is detained at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in California. He has several mental health conditions diagnosis, and often experiences memory loss and confusion. He has a tentative diagnosis for a severe and progressive brain parasite, but has not received any treatment.
  3. Raul Alcover Chavez, 26, is detained at Adelanto. He is deaf and communicates in American Sign Language, but has not been provided with an ASL interpreter. He has difficulty talking with medical staff, has been asked to sign documents he doesn’t understand and hasn’t communicated with his lawyer or family because a videophone isn’t available.  
  4. Jose Segovia Benitez, 38, is detained at Adelanto. He is a U.S. Marine Corp veteran who was hurt by an explosive device while serving. He has depression, anxiety, hearing loss, a traumatic brain injury and combat PTSD. He also has a heart condition, and treatment for heart-related symptoms has been denied or delayed. Has served as an ASL interpreter for other detainees.
  5. Hamida Ali, 28, is detained at the Teller County Detention Center in Colorado. She is a refugee from Sudan. She has been diagnosed with schizophrenia for several years. She was on suicide watch and then isolated in a lone cell for approximately nine months.
  6. Jimmy Sudney, 28, is detained at Adelanto. He has vision loss, mental health disabilities including PTSD and high blood pressure. He was placed in a lone cell for a week and was triggered with a PTSD flashback. A doctor said he shouldn’t be placed in isolation again. 
  7. Jose Baca Hernandez, 23, is detained at Adelanto. He became blind after being shot, and has had to rely on cellmates, attorneys, and guards to read any immigration and medical care documents. He has to rely on others to write and submit required request forms for medical care or meet with ICE agent. 
  8. Luis Miguel Rodriguez Delgadillo, 29, is detained at Adelanto. He has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder but managed to be stable before his detention. While in custody, his mental health declined due to the change in medications and lack of therapy and mental health staff support. He has been placed in an isolated cell for medical observation after expressing suicidal or harmful thoughts. He has missed court dates due to his placement in a solitary cell. 
  9. Ruben Dario Mencias Soto, 36, is detained at Adelanto. He fell in a shower at the facility and has since had severe back and leg pain from a compressed nerve and herniated spinal disc. He uses crutches and a wheelchair to move around, but had those taken away from him. His lawyer intervened and the wheelchair was returned, but he remains without crutches. 
  10. Alex Hernandez, 48, is detained at the Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama. He has a shoulder injury that has been untreated despite three different doctors recommending surgery. He also has persistent pain and inflammation in his back, hip and feet, which limit his mobility. He is also diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, hypertension, and PTSD, and he has some vision loss. He was placed in solitary confinement and denied access to recreational spaces, the law library and a telephone. 
  11. Edilberto Garcia Guerrero, 47, is detained at Aurora Processing Center in Colorado. Before detention, he had a reconstructive ankle surgery. While he was in shackles in ICE custody, he fell and injured his ankle. An outside specialist recommended surgery, but that was denied. He suffers from extreme pain and swelling in his ankle. He also has chronic pain in his neck and shoulder from an attack he suffered in ICE custody. Those conditions have been left untreated.
  12. Aristoteles Martinez Sanchez, 46, is detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. He is diagnosed with diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, hypertension, bone spur on left foot, Charcot foot, avascular necrosis, non-palpable pulses in lower extremities, and venous insufficiency. His health has worsened in detention, to the point where he needs to use a wheelchair. 
  13. Melvin Murillo Hernandez, 18, is detained at LaSalle Processing Center in Louisiana. He has life-threatening food allergies but has not received a special food diet in more than six months. He has experienced seven severe food allergy events and has been hospitalized four times for anaphylactic shock. 
  14. Sergio Salazar Artaga, 25, is detained at the Florence Correctional Center in Arizona. He has cerebral palsy and chronic pain in his back and knees. The pain medication provided has been insufficient. He has been waiting to receive braces for mobility, and for now uses a cane. He has fallen three times since his detention. He didn’t get a mental health care evaluation until after a month of arriving in Florence. He has been placed on suicide watch twice for self-harming behavior and hallucionations, and is now diagnosed with anxiety disorder and atypical psychosis. 

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.