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US Senators Seek Information on Detained Immigrants' Medical Care

  • VOA News

FILE - An unidentified Guatemalan woman and a child are seen inside a dormitory in the Artesia Family Residential Center, a federal detention facility for undocumented immigrant mothers and children in Artesia, New Mexico, Sept. 10, 2014.

U.S. senators who said they had heard multiple reports of inhumane conditions in immigrant detention centers called Friday for the release of more information.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, 12 senators — 11 Democrats, plus independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont — said they had received complaints about medical services for detained immigrants — a population of several hundred thousand foreign nationals in an average year.

The lawmakers said they had heard "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."

They asked Kelly to respond within 30 days, describing how newly arrived detainees receive treatment and how those being discharged are evaluated in a way that ensures continuity of care.

The senators also sought information about how detainees' health complaints were being handled, how regular medical needs such as dialysis and blood transfusions were being met, and whether child wellness and preventative care were being provided.

FILE - The entrance to U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement's Otay Mesa detention facility is shown in Otay Mesa, California, March 28, 2017.
FILE - The entrance to U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement's Otay Mesa detention facility is shown in Otay Mesa, California, March 28, 2017.

Several activist groups supported the lawmakers' complaint, including Make the Road New York and Human Rights Watch.

8 deaths in ICE custody

Theo Oshiro of Make the Road New York said his organization had heard "deeply troubling accounts from community members" of dangerous and unhealthy conditions in immigrant detention facilities. "Since October of last year," Oshiro said, "eight people have died in ICE custody, seven of whom were being held in private, for-profit detention centers."

Grace Meng of Human Rights Watch said, "The lack of transparency around immigrant detention and the medical care provided is appalling. The public has a right to know how Homeland Security is using taxpayer funds to maintain a sprawling detention system that too often fails to provide adequate, appropriate care, leading to needless and preventable deaths."

In a news release announcing the query, the office of Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said the United States maintains the largest immigration detention infrastructure in the world, holding between 380,000 and 442,000 people per year.

The letter to the Department of Homeland Security was signed by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Dianne Feinstein of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Menendez, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Al Franken of Minnesota, Sanders, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

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