Addressing Unhealthy Conditions In ICE Detention Centers

by Apurva Mahajan ‘22

U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has recently faced heat from immigrant rights advocates who state that the conditions undocumented immigrants are facing are inhumane. With the novel coronavirus, the death toll in ICE custody has risen to the highest it has been in 15 years with 21 deaths so far in 2020. The U.S. government also claims it cannot find more than 500 parents of children separated at the border. With allegations of forced hysterectomies on immigrant women as well, this leads to many rising questions on whether the detainees are being treated as well as ICE says they are.

Dawn Wooden, a nurse who formerly worked at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia filed a whistleblower complaint including issues of ICE faking medical reports, refusing to test detainees for COVID-19, withholding information from detainees, allowing employees to work while symptomatic, and allowing the transfer of detainees who have tested positive for coronavirus. The complaint also alleges that an anonymous immigrant woman had talked to Project South about five women who received hysterectomies and were “confused when explaining why they had one done … it was like they’re experimenting with our bodies,” the woman said.

In September 2020, a week after the whistleblower complaint, a congressional investigation was released on the failures of medical care in the ICE facilities. “Individuals suffering from migraine headaches, hernias, and high blood pressure reported that their conditions went untreated,” the report read. Detainees reported that facility personnel did not take them seriously on their medical problems, and that there were “Delays in emergency care, staffing shortages, and poor sanitation.” According to the investigation, Roger Rayson, 47, died in 2017 of a brain hemorrhage, when placed in solitary confinement. “Medical staff did not routinely open the cell door to check on him even though the intercom for his cell was broken the entire time he was there,” the report stated.  On sanitation, “dirty and moldy bathrooms, insufficient clean clothing, unsanitized dishes, dirty food preparation and service areas, and a lack of soap, toilet paper, paper towels, clean razors, and other hygiene items,” were reported.

In response to the immigrant rights activists, the deaths in custody “are exceedingly rare,” stated ICE. The agency is “fully committed to the health and safety of those in our care and will review the committee’s report” said the ICE Director of Public Affairs, Stacey Daniels, in a statement to CNN. “This one-sided review of our facilities was done to tarnish our agency’s reputation, as opposed to actually reviewing the care detainees receive while in our custody,” Daniels continued to say about  the congressional investigation.

Children at the border are essentially being kidnapped from their parents whom they may never see again. Activists’ cries to abolish ICE are being ignored no matter how many cases are uncovered of the organization violating human rights. Even with media coverage, nothing is currently being done in response to ICE’s acts against undocumented immigrants in their detention facilities, and there is no telling if these separated families will see each other ever again.