The deaths of two detainees at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Aurora, CO over the past six years reflect a “systemic failure” to provide adequate health care to detainees held at the center and other US facilities, according to a recently filed complaint.
The administrative complaint, filed by the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, demands an investigation into the Denver Contract Detention Center in Aurora, describing the medical and mental health care provided at the facility as “woefully inadequate.”
“Medical and mental health care in immigration detention facilities—including Aurora—repeatedly has been flagged as grossly substandard, even though substantial evidence indicates that facility staff, and ICE, are aware of the grave risks to detainees’ health,” the report said.
The complaint was filed with the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, the Office of the Inspector General, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and ICE Health Service Corps.
“The stories shared in this complaint illustrate the government’s longstanding and systemic failure to provide adequate medical and mental health care to individuals detained in the Aurora facility, which is owned and operated by the GEO Group, Inc.,” the complaint said..
Since 2016, ICE has announced the death of 28 adult detainees held in US facilities. In 2012, 46-year-old Aurora detainee Evalin-Ali Mandza complained of chest pain and notified the center’s nursing staff. A doctor authorized an ambulance, but the staff waited a half hour before calling 911.
Around three hours after Mandza first complained of chest pain, he went into cardiac arrest and died.
More recently, 64-year-old Kamyar Samimi was detained at Aurora in December of 2017 and died from cardiac arrest after spending 15 days in the facility. Few details surrounding Samimi’s death have been made public, and a death report is still pending, but the complaint says Samimi’s case “highlights the grave responsibility ICE takes on when it chooses to detain an individual.”
Citing a report from 2017, the complaint says many detention facilities have health care deficiencies and that one-third of detainee deaths between 2012 and 2015 were due in part to substandard medical care.
In addition to detailing the two deaths at the Aurora facility, the complaint highlights specific detainees who say they have not received adequate care. Some of these cases include a lack of proper treatment for PTSD, blindness, chronic pain, pregnancy, and a skin condition.
ICE detention standards are difficult to enforce, according to the complaint, and there is a poor infrastructure for tracking and responding to complaints.
The complaint requests greater transparency, robust oversight, and independent monitoring of the facilities in order to ensure the safety of immigrant detainees.
Katie Shepherd, the National Advocacy Counsel for the Immigration Justice Campaign, says that in order for facilities to improve in quality, the government needs to hold ICE and private prison companies accountable to the existing standards.
“As ICE repeatedly asks Congress for more money, Congress should investigate whether more money—and more beds—is truly necessary, particularly as ICE and private prison companies have already demonstrated that they are unable to care for the people already in their custody,” Shepherd said.
“Creating more bed space will only lead to more instances of unnecessary suffering, medical and mental health issues that are not be cared for adequately, and avoidable deaths in detention.”
Shepherd also emphasized the importance of using Alternatives to detention (ATDs) when possible, because they are cheaper and “more humane.” ATDs include parole, bond, ICE office check-ins, and telephonic monitoring, amongst others.
“The bottom line for these private prison companies is profit, so they are financially incentivized to detain as many people as possible, even though doing so does not make sense,” Shepherd said.
The complaint notes that some private contractors could have a financial incentive to deny medical care to detainees since some contractors receive a fixed payment for care.
ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok wrote in an emailed statement to The Crime Report that ICE is in the process of reviewing the complaint. ICE spends more than $250 million annually on healthcare services in their facilities, according to Rusnok.
Marianne Dodson is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.