Lawsuit alleges poor medical, mental health care in ICE facilities

The Southern Poverty Law Center and other immigration advocacy groups filed a class action lawsuit Monday alleging a lack of medical and mental health care inside Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities across the United States.

The lawsuit, brought on behalf of 15 named detainees and others, claims that individuals held in ICE custody have been denied healthcare, refused accommodations for disabilities and subjected to “arbitrary and punitive isolation.”

For example, the complaint alleges that two detainees have been denied daily doses of insulin for diabetes and another has been denied treatment for a likely brain parasite. Another plaintiff, who suffers from schizophrenia and depression, spent approximately nine months in near-total isolation without adequate monitoring of her well-being, according to the lawsuit.

Attorneys also alleged that detainees have had recommended surgeries delayed or denied by ICE.

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said ICE does not comment on pending litigation, but he said that comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in ICE custody. Staffing includes registered nurses, licensed mental health providers, physician assistants and a physician.

Cox added that detainees also have access to dental care and 24-hour emergency care.

Additionally, ICE detainees receive a comprehensive physical exam “within 14 days of arrival to identify medical, mental health and dental conditions that require monitoring or treatment,” Cox said.

Immigration authorities have been under increasing scrutiny in recent months as the number of migrants arriving at the southern border spiked, and the Trump administration has made immigration enforcement a national priority.

The Department of Homeland Security inspector general found expired food and dilapidated bathrooms during unannounced visits to four immigrant detention facilities in 2018, according to a report released in June.

The report also found segregation policies that violated detainee rights and a failure to provide appropriate clothing and hygiene items at some of the facilities.

As of August 10, there were 55,530 people detained in ICE custody, according to the agency.

The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in California, covers all current and future ICE detainees and includes about 160 detention facilities. The lawsuit seeks to force ICE to take immediate steps to improve conditions and provide adequate staffing.

“We ask that if ICE cannot ensure the safety and well-being of those in its custody, it has to take measures to release them. They cannot be continually subjected to these abusive and inhumane conditions,” said Elissa Johnson, a senior attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center.