House Committee Report Blasts ICE's Detainee Neglect

By Jennifer Doherty
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Law360 (September 21, 2020, 7:59 PM EDT) -- Oversight failures have led to ongoing patterns of substandard medical care, abuse of segregated housing and inadequate access to legal resources for migrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a report released Monday.

The House Committee on Homeland Security's report "ICE Detention Facilities: Failing To Meet Basic Standards of Care" is the result of a yearlong investigation involving site visits to eight facilities and interviews with over 400 detained migrants, the committee said in a statement.

Many of the issues the committee noted had been previously — and sometimes repeatedly — flagged to ICE or to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with limited results. The committee attributed many long-term health and safety violations to ICE's continuing relationships with deficient contractors and frail accountability enforcement.

"Unfortunately, during the committee's review, it became apparent that ICE prioritizes obtaining bed space over the wellbeing of detainees," the committee said.

According to the report, detainees' most common complaint was guards' use of solitary confinement, or threatening to send detainees into segregation, as retaliation for behavior they disliked, including registering "too many" medical complaints.

Migrants — many of whom were awaiting asylum hearings, according to the committee — also pointed to difficulties preparing their cases caused by the conditions of detention, including lack of translators.

However, the report's most alarming content related to the state of medical care at many ICE detention centers. 

The report specifically cited centers run by LaSalle Corrections as having "a history of neglect and abuse." LaSalle operates the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, the ICE facility at the center of a whistleblower complaint alleging that administrators shuffled detainees around without regard for whether they were positive for COVID-19 and that hysterectomies were performed on some detainees without their consent.

The report highlighted the case of one detainee at a LaSalle facility with a life-threatening peanut allergy who went into anaphylactic shock four times in four months while detained.

"Shockingly, the director of nursing took zero responsibility for these failures and placed the blame on the migrant for eating the food 'knowing what it was,'" the committee said, adding that officials at the facility were either "negligent in their care" or that they "willfully disregarded the health and safety of those in their custody."

At another facility, 300 sick calls went unanswered for 90 days, the committee said. The medical care at a third detention center caused injuries, leading to bone deformities and deaths, according to a DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties report.

The DHS office's inspection was conducted at the same time as a compliance review conducted by ICE's own inspection contractor, The Nakamoto Group Inc., which found no problem with the medical care at the center, according to the committee.

After the president of the company agreed to testify before the committee under threat of subpoena, she "was unable to answer basic questions at the hearing about her company's inspections, the statement of work with ICE, or the standards that apply to the facilities," the report said.

Committee member Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., said during an online forum Monday that Nakamoto's contract with ICE is worth $71 million.

"ICE should cease doing business with those contractors that are unable to meet basic standards of health and safety," the committee concluded.

A spokesperson for ICE said the agency had not yet reviewed the report Monday afternoon.

Representatives for LaSalle and Nakamoto did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

"ICE welcomes any recommendations that help improve agency processes and ensure that civil detention operations provide a safe and secure environment for detainees. The health, welfare and safety of ICE detainees is one of the agency's highest priorities," the agency said in a statement.

--Editing by Haylee Pearl.

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