A whistleblower working for Immigration and Customs Enforcement has alleged the agency “systematically provided inadequate medical and mental health care and oversight” to children and adults in immigration detention centers, Buzzfeed News reported last week.
Buzzfeed obtained a March 20 memo announcing an investigation into the whistleblower’s allegations. The memo is signed by a Department of Homeland Security (ICE’s parent agency) officer working with the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The document states the whistleblower works within the ICE Health Service Corps, which provides medical care and oversight of detainees in ICE custody.
The allegations include 17 complaints of policy violations and deficiencies in medical and mental health care and oversight that led to deaths, preventable surgeries and serious medical errors. Six of the 17 complaints being investigated were from cases of people held in ICE detention centers in Arizona.
One complaint related to the death of a detainee at the Eloy Detention Center states that ICE medical leadership “was very misleading” in its report of the detainee’s cause of death. The whistleblower alleges leadership knew of concerns related to “the facility’s psychiatrist misdiagnosis, failing to treat detainees appropriately, and lack of readily available emergency medications.”
Other cases from Eloy involve inadequate mental health treatment. In one case, the physiatrist at the detention center failed to treat a man even after recommendations from ICE’s Medical Quality Management Unit to do so. The complaint says the man “allegedly became so unstable that he lacerated his penis, requiring hospitalization and surgery.” Another man in Eloy who had auditory hallucinations and suicidal ideations didn’t receive the recommended anti-psychotic drugs and was instead given anti-depressants, which aggravated his serious mental illness.
Three complaints related to detainees at the Florence Service Processing Center allege that facility medical staff allegedly failed to follow policies for treatment of people experiencing withdrawal from opioids and benzodiazepines. In two of those cases, the detainees had to be taken to the hospital after one had drug withdrawal seizures and the other was found in severe withdrawal. Another detainee had a “medication error” during the treatment of his opioid withdrawal.
There are about 50,000 people held in ICE detention centers around the country, according to the latest figures from April.
Local groups, like Trans Queer Pueblo and Puente Human Rights Movement, have for years insisted ICE is unable to properly meet the medical and mental health needs of migrants in detention centers. Nationally, the American Civil Rights Union, Human Rights Watch, the National Immigrant Justice Center and Detention Watch Network have documented what they call systemic programs with medical care at ICE detention centers.