- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2008

The CBS program “60 Minutes” and The Washington Post jointly investigated our country’s detention centers for immigrants that face deportation. The media reported last week that “immigrants are suffering from neglect and some don’t survive detention in America.” This is another big lie in the mainstream media’s campaign to paint immigration enforcement as draconian and inhumane.

The intrepid reporters managed to find a handful of cases out of the hundreds of thousands where medical care can be judged as substandard. The government has admitted that mistakes were made in some cases. But a few anecdotes are not enough to indict the detention system that is run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

How does the ICE-run detention system measure up against the health care provided in other federal correctional facilities? Federal data show that the detention facilities for immigrants have a better record with regard to deaths and medical care than other similar facilities.

The number of deaths per 100,000 is far lower than for other facilities and for the population as a whole. But these facts do not support the theme of immigrant abuse and neglect presented by CBS: Thus, they were downplayed. In most places this is called pushing a political agenda; at CBS, it is New Journalism.

ICE has earned criticism for its poor record in enforcing our nation’s laws against the employment of illegal aliens. ICE also fails to devote adequate resources to identifying and deporting criminal aliens found in our jails and prisons. But it is a distortion of facts and a slander to say that the federal government deliberately provides immigrants in detention a lower standard of health care.

The law requires that immigrants in detention receive reasonable medical care. That care is indeed provided by the Division of Immigrant Health Services (DIHS) of the Department of Health Services. Since 2003 when ICE was created, over 1.5 million detainees have passed through the detention centers and all of them received an initial health screening.

In 2007, over 184,000 medical screenings were performed: 34 percent - over 63,000 immigrants - were found to have chronic conditions. Those who remain in custody for more than 14 days get a comprehensive physical examination - all at the expense of the American taxpayer. For many, it is the first medical exam they have ever had. In 2007, the DIHS medical staff provided 135,568 X-rays, 16,885 dental treatments and 23,224 mental health exams. They issued 210,182 prescriptions. They treated 6,264 cases of hypertension, 3,614 cases of diabetes, 1,302 asthma cases, 1,512 TB/INH cases and 565 cases of HIV/AIDS. They conducted 24 biopsies.

A New York Times story on the same subject claimed that “thousands of people who are not American citizens are being locked up for days, months or years while the government decides whether to deport them.” That sounds pretty bad, right? The problem is, this is a gross distortion of the facts. The average period of detention in 2007 for detainees was 37.5 days. The period of detention depends on individual circumstances and runs the gamut from as little as 24 hours for a person who waives the right to a hearing before deportation to many months for a person who is a flight risk.

One of the cases featured in the New York Times story was a man named Boubacar Bah, who had been deported previously but re-entered the country without a visa - a felony that carries a heavy prison term upon conviction. Yet, somehow, to the New York Times, his lengthy detention while awaiting a hearing was inhumane.

Out of these hundreds of thousands of cases, reporters found a handful of cases where appropriate medical care was not provided: They put a big spotlight on those cases.

Even the finest hospitals make mistakes. If those reporters were outraged by their findings, maybe they should spend a few days looking at medical care provided to foreign nationals in jails elsewhere - perhaps in places such as Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti or Somalia. They might discover that many countries do not even dare to keep statistics on the subject.

For years, politicians in Mexico and Central America - and their open-borders apologists in the United States - have been making unfounded allegations against the Border Patrol and ICE regarding the mistreatment of illegal aliens.

It’s not hard to understand their motivations and their political agenda. But it is discouraging to see the mainstream news media providing propaganda fodder for those slanders.

Rep. Tom Tancredo is a Republican from Colorado.

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