- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2017

More than one-third of the immigrants who died while being held in U.S. detention were given substandard health care, contributing to their deaths, human rights groups charged in a new report being released Monday that demands major changes in the detention system.

The review of 18 deaths from 2012 to 2015 found poor care in 16 cases, and said that substandard care contributed to the deaths in seven of the cases.

In those and other cases, patients’ requests for care were sometimes ignored and other times mishandled, according to Human Rights Watch and to Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).

One man died of complications from diabetes and pneumonia — both of which should have been able to be diagnosed and treated, doctors said in the report.

Another man had hypertension, but medical staff missed symptoms and failed to take action, delaying their response when he complained of a headache and said he had high blood pressure. He soon collapsed and died.

“This was an avoidable death,” Dr. Marc Stern told Human Rights Watch and CIVIC after reviewing the details released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

More than 400,000 people go through the U.S. immigration detention system a year, the most of any country, the groups said, blaming get-tough policies for a rise in the numbers.

The groups said ICE’s operations are “shrouded in secrecy,” and the agency doesn’t even release a full list of the 165 facilities that are permitted to hold immigrants awaiting deportation.

“There is no published information on who is being detained, how long they are detained, staffing ratios, incidents of violence, or the number placed in isolation,” the groups said.

The human rights groups demanded the federal government release many of the illegal immigrants it now has in custody, including families and those with serious medical conditions, and said officials need to better monitor the detention facilities it uses — particularly those under private contract.

“The sheer number and consistency of cases involving inadequate medical care point to a crisis that warrants immediate action,” said Christina Fialho, co-executive director of CIVIC. “It’s time to put an end to the substandard medical practices that harm many people in immigration detention each year.”

ICE, in a statement, said it is obligated to monitor and protect the welfare of those it holds in detention, and said it provides nurses, dental care, physician’s assistants, doctors and 24-hour emergency care access.

Detainees are given a physical exam within 14 days of arriving in custody, and are scheduled for follow-up appointments based on what doctors find.

“At no time during detention will a detainee be denied emergency care,” the agency said, adding that it spends more than $180 million a year on health care for detainees.

ICE also defended its decisions on who it holds in detention, saying they are made on a case-by-case basis, weighing factors such as danger to the community and risk of flight to avoid their deportation.

Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants streamed into the U.S. in recent years hoping to exploit lax Obama administration policies that let them remain free, disappearing into the shadows rather than showing up for their deportation cases.

The Trump administration has vowed to crack down by boosting detention beds. The spending bill that was signed into law last week pays for an average of more than 39,000 beds per day — a significant boost over the 34,000-bed minimum in previous law.

More than 270 immigrant rights groups signed onto a letter Monday asking Homeland Security to reject that expansion of detention, saying it will violate immigrants’ rights.

The groups say the Trump administration should turn to alternatives to detention, such as monitoring, rather than holding people in facilities.

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