The House Oversight Committee has found that ICE detainees died after receiving inadequate medical care and that jail staff “falsified records to cover up” issues, according to a report released on Thursday.
Committee staffers visited several for-profit detention centers during the course of their investigation and reviewed 60,000 pages of records related to the care of immigrants. The report also frequently cited in its findings a memo obtained by BuzzFeed News that revealed a whistleblower’s complaint alleging that care at several facilities overseen by ICE was so dire, it resulted in two preventable surgeries, including an 8-year-old boy who had to have part of his forehead removed, and contributed to four deaths.
The allegations in the whistleblower memo are still being investigated by Congress, according to the report released Thursday.
“The Committee’s investigation shines a critical new light on the failures of the Administration’s immigration detention system and the deaths of immigrants in custody,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the committee. “This staff report and the documents the Committee obtained explain how the Administration and its private prison contractors have let known problems fester into a full-blown crisis — a crisis that has become far worse during the coronavirus pandemic.”
ICE has come under fire in recent years for issues related to medical care provided within its detention centers. The agency’s detention system relies on a variety of methods to provide medical care. In some facilities, ICE provides it directly; in others, it has a few ICE employees assist private or public contractors; and in many, it oversees care provided by a contractor.
The committee staff focused much of its efforts on immigrants in for-profit detention facilities and the deaths of immigrant detainees.
Committee staffers found that Huy Chi Tran, a 47-year-old man who died in June 2018 at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona — operated by private contractor CoreCivic — had been placed in solitary confinement.
“CoreCivic detention staff were supposed to check on Mr. Tran every 15 minutes, but the detention officer on duty left Mr. Tran unsupervised for 51 minutes just before Mr. Tran’s cardiac arrest that led to his death,” the report found, citing an internal ICE document. “Investigators found that the officer falsified observation logs to hide the fact that he had failed to conduct welfare checks over that 51-minute period.”
The report cited the whistleblower memo obtained by BuzzFeed News that stated that “ICE health officials were ‘informed of multiple concerns regarding the care provided at the facility, particularly the facility’s psychiatrist misdiagnosing, failing to treat detainees appropriately, and the lack of readily available emergency medications.’”
The report also highlighted the death of Kamyar Samimi, a 64-year-old man who died in late 2017 at the Aurora ICE Processing Center in Colorado, which is operated by Geo Group. The committee obtained an ICE death review and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties report on the matter, both of which documented deficiencies at the facility.
For example, the ICE report found that facility staff “failed to transfer Samimi to an ER even though he exhibited life-threatening withdrawal symptoms during the week following his intake,” and that nurses in charge of his care were not trained in understanding opioid withdrawal symptoms.
“While the medical examiner ruled the cause of death ‘undetermined,’ the complete lack of medical leadership, supervision and care that this detainee was exposed to is simply astonishing and stands out as one of the most egregious failures to provide optimal care in my experience,” a medical expert examining the case found. “The magnitude of failures to care for this detainee is only surpassed by the number of such failures.”
The committee also examined the case of Vicente Caceres-Maradiaga, 46, who died at the Adelanto Detention Facility in May 2017 of an enlarged heart and liver. His blood pressure went “unmonitored while detained,” the committee report states.
The congressional investigators obtained an internal report from the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties that found: “The failure to hire an effective and qualified clinical leader contributed to the inadequate detainee medical care that resulted in medical injuries, including bone deformities and detainee deaths, and continues to pose a risk to the safety of other detainees at ACF.”
Committee staffers said the documents they obtained showed that there were “glaring deficiencies” with the medical care provided to detainees and cited issues included in an ICE report at a facility in Ohio as an example.
“This report substantiated an allegation of an ‘unacceptably long’ delay in treatment for a detainee with possible lymph node cancer even after an outside doctor wrote to the facility stressing the urgency of treatment,” the committee wrote. “The report concluded, 'This delay and [sic] resulted in an effective denial in access to care for a serious medical condition.'”
The report also documented general issues with the conditions within government detention facilities.
“Many ICE facilities, including those that house 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.
Stacey Daniels, ICE's director of public affairs, said in a statement that the agency "is fully committed to the health and safety of those in our care and will review the committee’s report."
"However, it is clear this one-sided review of our facilities was done to tarnish our agency’s reputation, as opposed to actually reviewing the care detainees receive while in our custody," she added. "Improvements to civil detention are based on concrete recommendations from the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) and an aggressive inspections program, which includes formal facility inspections, independent third-party compliance reviews, daily on-site compliance reviews and targeted site visits. The agency also maintains a toll-free service that provides a direct channel for detainees, their attorneys, and other stakeholders to communicate with ICE about detainee concerns or conditions of confinement.”
In a statement, Geo Group said it "strongly reject[s] these baseless allegations, which are part of another politically driven report that ignores more than three decades of providing high-quality services to those in [its] care."
"The Adelanto ICE Processing Center provides safe and humane residential care and high quality 24/7 medical services," a company spokesperson said. "The health services department at the center employs approximately 79 health services professionals, including; three doctors, five dental professionals, and forty-three nurses, as well as seven mental health professionals, including two psychiatrists.
"In 2019, the health services team provided more than 54,000 medical encounters, over 3,100 dental encounters, and over 20,000 mental health encounters to individuals at the center. In all of 2019, the center processed approximately 8,000 individuals in and approximately 8,200 individuals out of the center."
A CoreCivic spokesperson also said the company "is committed to the safety and health of every individual in our care."
"We don’t provide the healthcare in the majority of our immigration facilities. In most cases, comprehensive medical, mental health and dental care is provided for by the ICE Health Services Corps," the spokesperson said in a statement. "Where we do provide care, our clinics are staffed with licensed, credentialed doctors, nurses and mental health professionals who contractually meet the highest standards of care."
ICE officials have long said that they are dedicated to providing timely and comprehensive medical care to immigrants in their custody, noting that they have access to a daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care.
The agency has also been criticized for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic in detention facilities.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, detainees and immigrant advocates have highlighted the health threats posed by the highly contagious disease for those in ICE custody. The agency has attempted to assure congressional officials and the public that it has carefully examined the issue and has even released certain “vulnerable" detainees as a precaution.
Earlier this week, a separate committee report issued by the House Homeland Security Committee found that ICE detainees are often given deficient medical care and that detention centers use segregation as a threat against immigrants.