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'Intentional Cruelty': House Investigation Finds Deadly Medical Neglect in Immigrant Detention Facilities

Despite knowledge of "systemic health and safety issues at immigration detention facilities operated by for-profit contractors," the Trump administration has rewarded these companies with "lucrative contracts."

Human rights advocates in New York City protesting the incarceration of immigrants on July 30, 2020. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Human rights advocates in New York City protesting the incarceration of immigrants on July 30, 2020. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Detained immigrants in the U.S. have been subjected to harmful and sometimes deadly medical neglect—including inadequate and delayed care, unsanitary conditions, and understaffing—while in Department of Homeland Security custody at facilities operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as Customs and Border Protection, and particularly at detention centers run by its two largest for-profit contractors, CoreCivic and GEO Group. 

That's according to a staff report (pdf), which summarizes the disturbing results of a yearlong investigation conducted by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, published Thursday.

Last summer, the Oversight Committee initiated its probe of immigrant detention centers following a "troubling series of reports of health and safety violations" related to the Trump Administration's "rapidly increasing use of for-profit contractors to detain tens of thousands of immigrants."

After reviewing thousands of documents and conducting inspections at almost two dozen facilities in Arizona, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, the committee found widespread evidence of the ongoing maltreatment of children and adults in DHS custody, especially those detained in centers run by private contractors whose profits have soared under the Trump administration. 

"In some cases, conditions were so poor that committee staff warned contractor officials during their visits about deficiencies in the treatment of detainees," according to the report. 

The report notes that "committee staff were so alarmed by health and safety concerns" at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia—the same facility facing public scrutiny over "jarring medical neglect" alleged in a recent whistleblower report—"that they raised them directly with the warden during their visit."

Heidi Altman, policy director at the National Immigration Justice Center, called the report "hard to read."

The investigation found "a widespread failure to provide necessary medical care to detainees with serious and chronic medical conditions, along with critical medical staff shortages." The report includes numerous examples of egregious medical deficiencies and negligence. 

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Huy Chi Tran, who had been a legal permanent resident of the U.S. since 1984, died at the age of 47 in June 2018 of sudden cardiac arrest after being detained in solitary confinement for eight days at CoreCivic's Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. The guard who neglected to monitor him "falsified logs to hide this failure," the report says. 

Roger Rayson, 47, died in March 2017 of a brain hemorrhage after being detained for 44 days at GEO Group's LaSalle Detention Center in Louisiana. After Rayson was "placed in solitary confinement, medical staff did not routinely open the cell door to check on him even though the intercom for his cell was broken the entire time he was there," according to the report. 

ICE medical staff later described the healthcare Rayson received as "deplorable."

Vicente Caceres-Maradiaga, a 46-year-old construction worker who had been in the U.S. since 1999, died in May 2017 of an enlarged heart and liver at GEO Group's Adelanto Detention Facility in California. According to the report, the DHS's failure to hire adequate healthcare staff meant that "his high blood pressure went unmonitored" while he was detained for nine days. 

Despite a congressional requirement since 2018 to publish all investigations of in-custody deaths within 90 days, ICE has completely failed to comply in every instance, according to the report. 

The investigation also found that detained immigrants "face serious risks due to deficient sanitation practices and poor handling of infectious diseases," which has the potential to exacerbate the spread of coronavirus at detention centers

More than 6,000 detainees and 45 ICE staff at over 95 detention facilities as well as more than 600 GEO Group and CoreCivic employees working in at least 29 sites have been infected with coronavirus as of mid-July 2020, the report notes, and many detention centers, including those housing children, have had "repeated sanitation problems, including dirty and moldy bathrooms, insufficient clean clothing, unsanitized dishes, dirty food preparation and service areas, and a lack of soap, toilet paper, paper towels, clean razors, and other hygiene items."

The report states that despite the White House's knowledge of "systemic health and safety issues at immigration detention facilities operated by for-profit contractors"—contained in DHS's own internal reports on in-custody deaths—the Trump administration "has continued to reward" these companies with "lucrative contracts," paying them "billions of taxpayer dollars... without providing proper oversight." 

Since 2017, CoreCivic and GEO Group have been awarded more than $5 billion in contracts to operate detention centers, while ICE has "issued waivers to allow deficient practices to continue and exempt contractor facilities from certain health and safety standards," the report states. 

Altman described the abuses committed by ICE, CoreCivic, and GEO Group as "intentional cruelty."

"How many deaths, how many reports, how many thousands of pages documenting abuses and impunity for those abuses, must there be," Altman asked on social media, "before elected officials and leaders of conscience demand that we defund hate and end detention now?"

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