AILA Condemns ICE's Failure to Provide Basic Medical Care

Wednesday, May 14, 2008
George Tzamaras

WASHINGTON, DC - AILA applauds the introduction of the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act of 2008 by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) in the House and Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) in the Senate.

This bill takes an important step in addressing Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) outrageous failure to provide medical treatment in detention facilities which has resulted in serious harm to detainees and in some cases, even death. Since 2003, at least 83 detainees have died in detention in custody or shortly after release. The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) current process for providing outside medical care requires that on-site medical personnel in detention centers across the country obtain prior authorization from officials in Washington, resulting in both unreasonable delays and denials in some cases. This bill would require DHS to issue guidelines requiring the timely and effective delivery of health care to detainees.

Explosive growth in the numbers of non-citizens in immigration detention has resulted in inconsistent and often poor conditions of confinement. Although federal immigration authorities adopted generalized detention standards in 2000, these standards have not been consistently followed or enforced. Despite DHS's monitoring of conditions, widespread reports of abuse persist. Recent reports by the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlighted the Department's lack of compliance with current health care standards and the obstacles that detention facility personnel and detainees have encountered in obtaining approval for outside medical and mental health care. AILA encourages DHS to work collaboratively with Congress to issue regulations that will ensure detainees are treated humanely in all respects including the provision of medical care.

While this bill is an important first step toward ensuring that detainees receive appropriate medical care, AILA urges Congress and the Administration to undertake a broader re-examination of our current detention policies. The detention of individuals is an extraordinary power that should only be used in extraordinary circumstances. Current law requires ICE to put immigrants in jail even when they pose no danger to the community or flight risk. AILA supports reforms that would require the Attorney General to release an immigrant from detention if he or she does not pose a danger to the safety of other persons or of property and is likely to appear for any scheduled proceeding. To ensure that detention is not used to separate American families needlessly, AILA urges DHS to expand cost-saving community-based alternatives to detention programs that require immigrants to show up for their court proceedings. Most importantly, the Department's detention system and their treatment of detainees should comport with basic American values of decency and fairness.


The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members. For more information call George Tzamaras at 202-507-7649 or Annie Wilson at 202-507-7653

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 08051562.