Immigrants Are Dying In Detention While ICE Ignores Its Own Medical Standards

April 27, 2016

Last June, I wrote a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling for a Department of Justice investigation into the death of a man named José de Jesús Deniz-Sahagún. A Mexican national being held at Eloy Detention Center outside of Phoenix, Deniz-Sahagún’s life came to an end under circumstances every bit as desolate and isolated as his imprisonment in the Arizona desert. The 31-year-old detainee took his own life the day after a mental health worker placed him on constant watch for delusional thoughts and behavior. Less than 24 hours later, that evaluation was disregarded. Deniz-Sahagún was left unattended, and soon after, found dead.

The sad reality is José de Jesús Deniz-Sahagún’s death is far from an isolated incident of medical neglect in an immigrant detention facility, as a recent report by the ACLU, Detention Watch Network, and National Immigrant Justice Center shows. Fatal Neglect: How ICE Ignores Deaths in Detention analyzes previously unpublished death reviews and demonstrates how egregious violations of medical standards by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) played a significant role in nearly half of the deaths for which the organizations were able to review documents. More alarmingly, ICE detention facility inspections before and after the deaths did not acknowledge, and sometimes even dismissed, the substandard medical care detainees were receiving.

In three-quarters of deaths attributed to substandard medical care, the victims were held in for-profit prisons. Their deaths are tragic proof that profit motives have perverse and harmful effects on our judicial system. Corporations have built a business model out of detaining as many people as they can for as long as possible. Desperate men, women and children fleeing poverty and violence in places like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are their unsuspecting prey. As Seth Freed-Wessler documented in The Nation earlier this year, medical neglect is also rampant in the privately-run facilities the Bureau of Prisons uses to house immigrants caught crossing the border after deportation. In the saddest of ironies, these impoverished and meager asylum seekers form the basis for lavish and lucrative contracts. 

Read Rep. Grijalva's full Op-Ed here.