NEW YORK - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has failed to provide adequate care to immigrant detainees with HIV, putting their health and lives at risk, Human Rights Watch charged on Friday.
In a 71-page report, whose findings were challenged by Homeland Security, the rights group said the agency denied, delayed or interrupted treatment for HIV-positive detainees in immigration custody.
The department's detention guidelines for people with HIV/AIDS failed to meet national and international standards for appropriate care, the report said, adding the agency did little to enforce its own minimal standards.
The report said without improved standards for medical care, internal oversight and accountability to the public, "immigrant detainees with HIV/AIDS will continue to needlessly suffer, and in some cases, die in U.S. immigration detention."
The report detailed the treatment of several people who it said either died or became resistant to AIDS drugs and received incomplete dosages. Most were not identified by their full names.
A cellmate of Victoria Arellano, a 23-year-old transgender detainee with HIV/AIDS, said in an interview with Human Rights Watch that after Arellano began to vomit blood, "(she) was told only to take Tylenol and drink large amounts of water ... she died a week later."
There were 47 detainees with HIV in facilities run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, a division of the Homeland Security Department, through April 2007, Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Rebecca Schleifer said.
Detainees also are held in other facilities such as local jails and regional centers, where the government does not track the number of people with HIV, she added.
Asked about the report, ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said, "ICE provides excellent care to the detainees in our custody, it's an absolute priority with us.
"We spend nearly $100 million every year on detainee health care," she said.
About a quarter of the 300,000 people whom ICE processes each year are diagnosed with chronic health problems, and many learn about them only when ICE doctors tell them, she said.
On any given day, there are about 30,000 detainees at eight facilities run by Customs officers, seven run by private contractors and about 400 local and state facilities such as jails, Nantel said.
The report asks the government to increase the number of facility inspections, revise medical standards for detainee care, enhance protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV-positive detainees and increase access to HIV testing.
(Editing by Christine Kearney and Peter Cooney)
© 2007 Reuters