The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Linda Paris, (202) 675-2312;

House Hearing Spotlights Need For Better Health Services For Immigration Detainees

Detainee Deaths Underscore Failed Medical System, Says ACLU

Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee
will hold a hearing today on health services for immigration detainees
in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. This welcome
hearing highlights the need for the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) to prioritize fixing this broken medical care system in its
Fiscal Year 2010 budget.
hearing highlights the dire need to improve a dangerously failed
medical care system for immigration detainees," said Joanne Lin, ACLU
Legislative Counsel. "Congress and the Obama administration have an
opportunity to prioritize the treatment of immigration detainees with
serious medical or mental health conditions. Now is the time for
Congress and DHS to commit the necessary resources to ensure that all
immigration detainees receive health care based on medical clinical
judgments, not on government cost-savings."
annually detains over 300,000 immigration detainees on civil
immigration violations. Many detainees develop medical problems that
are repeatedly ignored, despite constant cries from the detainees about
unbearable pain and suffering. Over 80 immigration detainees have died
in DHS custody since 2002, and many of these detainees were in their
20s, 30s, and 40s, with U.S. citizen spouses and children.
the past year, the negligent medical care of detainees has been well
documented in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee as well as
in the media on 60 Minutes and in the New York Times and the Washington
Post. In addition, the DHS Office of Inspector General has issued
reports on detainee deaths and poor medical care for immigration
detainees. Despite this attention, immigration detainees continue to
die in ICE custody, with deaths occurring in recent months in
facilities in Farmville, Virginia and Central Falls, Rhode Island.
of Rhode Island client Hiu Lui Ng, a 34-year-old Chinese detainee who
died in August 2008 at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls,
Rhode Island, was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and a broken
spine a few days before he died. For months, Ng had told prison
officials about his excruciating pain, but guards and medical staff at
Wyatt continually accused him of faking his illness. Despite Ng's
inability to walk, he was frequently denied use of a wheelchair,
including when his attorney sought to visit him. A week before Ng's
death, officials shackled his hands, feet and waist and dragged him
while he screamed in pain to a transport van. Parts of this abusive
treatment were captured on videotape.
Ng's case of medical abuse should have sounded an alarm that our health
services for immigration detention are badly broken," said Steven
Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. "Unfortunately,
Mr. Ng was just one of over 80 deaths in a system that undermines
American values of fairness and dignity. Congress must ask today's ICE
witnesses what steps they can take to prevent another
incident such as Mr. Ng's case from occurring in the future. Reforming
immigration detention is truly a matter of life and death."

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

(212) 549-2666