This Monday, Human Rights Watch published a 104-page report describing conditions at immigration centres as hazardous to the health of the detainees being held there. Much of the blame for these hazardous conditions, according to the report, can be attributed to sub-par medical care at these facilities. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that inadequate medical care led to the deaths, which have been deemed to have been preventable, of at least 18 immigrants in detention from 2012 to 2015. The report, draws special attention to issues that include (but are not limited to), a consistent failure to follow-up on symptoms that require immediate medical attention, unreasonable delays in care, misuse of solitary confinement for people with mental health conditions, as well the fact that some medical personnel appear to be practicing beyond the scope of their licenses and expertise.
Human Rights Watch attributes such shortcomings as leading factors in the death of Raul Ernesto Morales-Ramos, a detainee at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California, who died of organ failure caused by cancer in 2015. Raul, who was from originally from El Salvador had been in custody since 2010. In the weeks leading up to his death, he is said to have been “suffering from diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and uncontrollable leakage of urine,” which based on tests carried out at in Palmdale, would have required inpatient care and possible surgery. It should be noted that Adelanto Detention Facility has been accused of neglect in the past. Raul was one of 141 detainees to die whilst under custody.
Based for the most part on independent analyses of records from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigation of the detention centre deaths, the report comes at a time when the Trump administration is set to roll-back on key immigration reforms carried out during the Obama years. As it so happens, the Trump administration recently requested supplemental funding for increased detention capacity from the current 34,000 beds to an unprecedented 45,700. The US, it should be pointed out, currently detains about 40,000 immigrants a day, or more than 400,000 a year, at an annual cost of US $2 billion—a situation exacerbated by the fact that many of the detainees currently being held at the immigration centers are blocked from bond hearings to determine whether their detention is necessary. The ICE, for its part, has carried out investigations of its own into the alleged hazardous conditions in its centres, in addition to releasing a statement promising to “review the report to determine what changes, if any, should be made based on its recommendations.”
In previous reports relating to immigrant detention in the US, Human Rights Watch along with other organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have even alleged several instances of sexual and physical abuse by detention guards against females, as well as unlawful strip searches. It should be pointed out that such abuses took place during the presidency of Barack Obama and it remains to be seen what measures will be put in place to address these issues under the current US administration. The signing into law of bills, such as the recently passed and signed in Texas, which enables police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain, misses the trick. Worse still, it serves to aggravate the situation of thousands of immigrants in a country which currently has the largest immigrant detention infrastructure in the world.
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