A Child’s Forehead Partially Removed, Four Deaths, The Wrong Medicine — A Secret Report Exposes Health Care For Jailed Immigrants
(Dec. 12, 2019) Immigrants held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement jails around the US received medical care so bad it resulted in two preventable surgeries, including an 8-year-old boy who had to have part of his forehead removed, and contributed to four deaths, according to an internal complaint from an agency whistleblower.
The allegations appear in an explosive Department of Homeland Security memo, obtained by BuzzFeed News, containing reports of detainees being given incorrect medication, suffering from delays in treating withdrawal symptoms, and one who was allowed to become so mentally unstable he lacerated his own penis and required reparative surgery.
The whistleblower reported that three people had died in ICE lockup after receiving inadequate medical treatment or oversight, and said official reports on a fourth person’s death were “very misleading.” One man died from meningitis following “grossly negligent” care. Another killed himself after saying he would do exactly that months earlier.
The allegations were laid out in a March 20 memorandum signed by Cameron Quinn, DHS’s officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and sent to top ICE leadership. The memo describes the whistleblower as someone within the ICE Health Service Corps, or IHSC, which provides medical care and oversight for detainees in the agency’s custody. BuzzFeed News does not know the person’s identity.
The whistleblower’s allegations were first received by the Homeland Security’s inspector general in April 2018. In July of that year, the inspector general sent the allegations to Quinn’s office, which will investigate the medical care and oversight IHSC provides at a time when President Donald Trump demonizes immigrants, detains them in record numbers, and enacts restrictive policies to keep them out of the US.
The allegations in the DHS memo, if corroborated, are a cry from someone working for ICE echoing what advocates, lawsuits, and other media reports have been saying for years: The medical care ICE provides and oversees for immigrants in private and local jails could be very bad.
This internal memo is one of a trove of remarkable secret documents — including emails, briefing materials, and draft reports — BuzzFeed News has obtained throughout 2019 uncovering how the Trump administration’s immigration policies were formed and executed, and how those policies confused or harmed people who sought to immigrate to the US. These records have revealed how immigrants locked up at the US border had no access to showers and how children were held in closed and crowded cells; that US border officials apparently pressured the asylum office to deny immigrants entry into the US; that a Texas detention center waited more than seven hours to transfer an ailing 37-year-old Mexican man to a hospital, where he died from bleeding in his brain; and that in the final days before launching a controversial plan to deport Central American asylum-seekers to Guatemala, US officials scrambled to answer basic questions such as how people would get shelter, food, and social services.
BuzzFeed News has retyped the memo based on the whistleblower’s allegations, providing its full text, because metadata or other information in the original could compromise a source’s identity. BuzzFeed News redacted the names of most immigrants and ICE middle managers and their contact information.
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The memo describes what happened to 17 different immigrants who were held at nine facilities across six states, from Georgia to Washington. The allegations include:
That immigrants received incorrect medications. One man was given an antidepressant instead of an antipsychotic drug, likely worsening his condition. Another was given aspirin despite having thin blood — he nearly died.
That four immigrants endured severe withdrawal symptoms while in ICE custody. One man addicted to opioids was the subject of a “medication error”; two men with a benzodiazepine addiction saw delays in treatment; and one man “went into severe alcohol withdrawal and delirium and was admitted to the hospital in the intensive care unit.”
That IHSC leadership was unresponsive or even dishonest when confronted. They “failed to take appropriate action” when told of policy violations in 10 of the cases; “did not respond” to concerns about one case in which a detainee with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma died under “deplorable” conditions; and were “erroneous” and told others to “hold off” when looking into several cases.
Overall, the memo says, the whistleblower alleged that IHSC “has systematically provided inadequate medical and mental health care and oversight to immigration detainees across the U.S.” The memo also says the inspector general will investigate the whistleblower’s allegation that they were retaliated against for raising the issues.
The memo was distributed within the agency — but a former senior ICE official who was aware of the allegations and the response told BuzzFeed News that ICE leadership appeared to not take a close look at the allegations.
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