Gillibrand and others say detained immigrants not receiving adequate medical attention

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is going after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

At issue are reports of inhumane conditions at immigrant detention centers.

New York's junior senator Gillibrand and 11 other senators — in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — stated they have received multiple reports of “detainees ending up hospitalized due to delays in treatment, or because they did not receive needed medication, or because of the lack of treatment plans provided for people with serious mental illness after being released from detention facilities.”

The United States has the largest immigration detention infrastructure in the world, detaining about 380,000 to 442,000 persons per year. Reports cite inadequate medical, dental and mental health care for men, women and children in facilities, according to the letter co-signed by Democratic senators including Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The letter calls for a response to reported incidents and an explanation of policies and practices to provide people in immigration detention with adequate healthcare.

“Domestic standards in U.S. laws — whether through the Constitution or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) guidelines — provide protections to all immigration detainees regardless of whether or not they have been charged with a crime,” the senators state.

Human rights organizations are also demanding answers.

Jill Marie Bussey is director of Advocacy at Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., and member of its pro bono project.

“We were horrified to learn of the ninth death in a detention facility this year,” Bussey stated in a release. “We can only expect this trend to grow unless we change course and adopt more humane immigration procedures, including adequate health care for those detained, particularly vulnerable women and children. No person deserves to lose their life in civil immigration detention, or in any prison setting.”

“Immigration detention centers are no place for children; these inhumane spaces are often run as prisons, and lack basic child wellness and mental health services,” stated Naomi Post, executive director for Children’s Defense Fund-New York. “This is especially dangerous for children who have already suffered unnecessary trauma. It is critical that these facilities minimize suffering, and provide the most basic health care to all detainees, including mothers and fathers who are caring for children in these harmful centers.” 

Tom Jawetz, vice president of Immigration Policy at Center for American Progress, stated: "Gross medical neglect in immigration detention had been chronicled for more than a decade. But the dramatic increase in the rate of detainee deaths in (fiscal year) 2017 raises important questions about whether essential medical and mental health needs are being properly addressed.”

Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, stated that in addition to the deaths of people in ICE custody this year, there are reports of “casual and ongoing violations of human rights such as withholding medications and life-saving procedures.”

Choi stated: “The President and Secretary Kelly literally have blood on his hands, what will they do to wash it off?”

The senators’ letter comes just a few weeks after New York Farm Bureau and an Assembly task force called for action against racial profiling. “Migrant farmworkers and their families are in constant fear of being profiled, forced from their jobs, detained and pulled apart, all the while not being recognized for their hard work and contributions” to the communities where they live, stated NYFB and the Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force.

The current political climate belittles and dehumanizes immigrant farmworkers and vilifies the farmers who hire them, according to the joint statement from Farm Bureau and the task force.