Tens of thousands of immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were denied adequate health care and disability accommodations while being held in 158 immigrant prisons across the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center and its allies filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of 15 people detained at eight facilities in six states. They represent a class of approximately 55,000 immigrants imprisoned by ICE on any given day. Two nonprofit organizations, Al Otro Lado and the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, were also named as plaintiffs.
When the suit was filed, all of the named plaintiffs were being detained by ICE in repurposed prisons and jails, many of them operated by private, for-profit companies being paid $208 per day, on average, for each detainee. The immigrants experienced rampant abuse and mistreatment including the denial of proper medical screening and care; lengthy placement in segregation; deprivation of medications necessary to manage mental health disabilities; discrimination on the basis of disability; and the denial of necessities like hearing aids and mobility devices.
When the suit was filed, at least 26 people had died in ICE custody since the beginning of the Trump administration.
Over the course of fiscal year 2018, ICE detained approximately 396,448 people pending a hearing on their immigration claims. Many could have been legally released on parole or with a bond, but ICE chose to detain them instead. Thousands suffered in detention, and many abandoned viable immigration claims and accepted deportation out of a desperate desire to be released or to obtain necessary medical care.
Numerous reports, including accounts by internal ICE investigators, detail the lack of sufficient medical and mental health care treatment, ultimately resulting in untreated medical needs, prolonged suffering and preventable death. ICE’s failures, according to the lawsuit, violate the detainees’ rights under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The detainees described in the lawsuit are lawful permanent residents, refugees and undocumented people who have been in the U.S. for years. Others arrived more recently to seek asylum after fleeing persecution in their home countries. Despite presenting themselves at a designated port of entry in compliance with asylum law – and not being in violation of criminal law – ICE chose to detain them anyway.