Watchdog Memo Finds Medical Care Received by Migrants in ICE Custody to be ‘Grossly Negligent’

A n internal complaint from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) whistleblower watchdog group alleges that migrants in ICE custody received “grossly negligent” medical care.

The memo by the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), which was first reported by BuzzFeed News on Thursday, alleges that four migrants who died in ICE custody received improper medical care, while others suffered from misdiagnoses of medical conditions and were inadequately treated medically. One of the migrants listed in the complaint was an 8-year-old boy who had to have part of his forehead surgically removed due to a misdiagnosis.

The Complaint:

  • Thememo, received by BuzzFeed News, was sent to ICE on March 20 and alleges that CRCL had received information from the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s Office about the quality of medical and mental health care provided to migrants who were detained in ICE health facilities, also known as ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC). The agency allegedly “has systematically provided inadequate medical and mental health care and oversight to immigration detainees in facilities throughout the U.S.” The complaint lists seventeen different incidents where detained migrants have received poor medical care.

  • The allegations from the complaint include inadequate treatment and monitoring of migrant detainees suffering from alcohol and/or substance abuse, forcible medication injections to control behavior, misdiagnosis of medical and mental health conditions, medication errors and a lack of psychiatric monitoring.

  • In one complaint listed in the memo, CRCL said a detainee being held at Eloy Federal Contract Facility in Eloy, Arizona, was experiencing “worsening psychosis-related symptoms” while in the facility, but the psychiatrist failed to treat the migrant despite being notified about his condition several times. The memo states that the detainee “allegedly became so unstable that he lacerated his own penis, requiring hospitalization and surgery.”

  • Another detainee, who was held at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, allegedly experienced a delay in medical care “after medical staff were notified of the detainee’s critical lab result that should have resulted in immediate medical intervention.” The memo states that although the detainee had extremely thin blood, the physician prescribed him aspirin for six days, which led him to cough up “large amounts of blood.” He was taken to a hospital and not expected to survive, according to the complaint. At the hospital, doctors said the aspirin “may have caused him harm that could have resulted in a fatality.” The findings were brought to the attention of IHSC leadership for analysis, but the department “failed to take appropriate action,” the complaint stated.

  • An 8-year-old boy who was residing at South Texas Residential Center in Dilley, Texas allegedly received delayed medical care and a misdiagnosis that resulted in him having unnecessary surgery. On December 5, 2017, the boy’s mother reported that her son had a worsening earache. The child was diagnosed with Swimmer’s Ear and was given ear drops, according to the complaint. On December 23, 2017, the boy suffered a seizure and was taken to the hospital where he was then diagnosed with Pott’s Puffy Tumor, a rare infection in the skull. Doctors had to treat the infection by removing part of the boy’s frontal bone, which is part of the forehead.

  • Roger Rayes, a migrant who was detained at Jena/LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana, died from “subdural hemorrhages resulting in traumatic brain injury,” according to the complaint. The memo stated that Rayes’ “health care was ‘deplorable.’”

  • Efrain De La Rosa, a migrant who was detained at Stewart Detention Facility in Lumpkin, Georgia, died by suicide even though IHSC personnel were informed of De La Rosa’s “deteriorating mental health condition,” the complaint states.

What They’re Saying:

In a statement, ICE told BuzzFeed that the agency “is committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in secure, humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement.”

“The agency takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care, including those who come into ICE custody with prior medical conditions or who have never before received appropriate medical care. It also uses a multi-layered inspections program to ensure its facilities meet a certain threshold of care as outlined in our contracts with facilities, as well as the National Detention Standards and the Performance Based National Detention Standards,” the statement read.

The conditions in detention facilities have been a topic of conversation these past few weeks. Earlier this week, Democrats called for flu shots and better medical care following the one-year anniversary of the death of seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, a migrant girl from Guatemala , in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) custody that died on December 8, 2018 from a bacterial infection called streptococcal sepsis, NPR News previously reported.

On December 10, Chairman of the Hispanic Caucus Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) introduced the Jakelin Caal Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2019, which is a bill that would mandate the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services report on and investigate all deaths that occur in government custody.

“Jakelin’s death was a travesty, a dark stain on the moral fabric of this country,” said Castro in a previous statement. “One year later, Congress has yet to receive any of the information we’ve requested surrounding her death, despite laws that mandate agencies to report on all deaths of migrant children in their custody. This lack of action not only dishonors Jakelin’s memory, but her entire family and all families that entrust our nation with their lives.”


About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.