Thirty-five detainees in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities have died since April 2018, often because of preventable causes, such as COVID-19, flu, and suicide, according to a new study. One of them was a Mexican citizen who had first entered the United States two decades ago. He died after a month in custody. Medical records indicated the 54-year-old man appeared normal
“except a heart rate of 103 and pulse oximetry [blood oxygen] reading of 83%.” A normal blood oxygen level is between 95% and 100%. Yet no mention was made of measures such as supplementary oxygen or hospitalization, according to University of Southern California (USC) researchers.
His case, and others like it, indicate the ICE facilities need better infection control and psychiatric care, the study authors noted. The research team examined three years of congressionally mandated reports on deaths in ICE custody. They found a sevenfold increase in deaths even as the detention facilities’ average daily population decreased by nearly one-third between 2019 and 2020.
“Potentially preventable causes of death — including COVID-19 infection, influenza, and suicide — are responsible for at least half of recent deaths,” said researcher Sophie Terp, an assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.
The death rate is 10.8 per 100,000 detainees — the highest since ICE implemented national detention standards in 2008, the researchers said. The average age of death is 47, which is much lower than the life expectancy of foreign-born individuals in the United States.
“This is concerning, particularly considering that foreign-born individuals in the United States have a 2.4-year advantage in life-expectancy relative to the United States-born population,” Terp and her colleagues wrote in the report published online recently in the journal AIMS Public Health.
The researchers found that nine people died by suicide and 26 from medical causes. Eight of those deaths were related to COVID-19. Most of the COVID-19-related deaths occurred among individuals whose age or chronic medical conditions put them at high risk.
“Safety measures such as masks, hand hygiene, and social distancing can be difficult to implement in often-crowded detention environments,” Terp said in a university news release.
“Although the COVID vaccine was not yet available during the study period, immunization should be prioritized for incarcerated populations,” she added.
Most of the people who died were detained for more than a month before their death, suggesting conditions in detention, rather than events before detention, contributed to premature death, the researchers said. According to the study authors, the findings support civil liberties organizations’ longstanding concerns that substandard medical care in ICE facilities has contributed to preventable deaths.
How Bad Was COVID in Your State? Governor’s Party Affiliation Was Key
Could whether your governor is a Democrat or a Republican have influenced how many coronavirus cases and deaths your state has seen during the pandemic? Yes, claim researchers who discovered a strong link between the two — by late last summer, the odds of dying from COVID-19 was nearly twice as high in states whose governors were Republicans versus states with Democratic governors.
“Governors’ party affiliation may have contributed to a range of policy decisions that, together, influenced the spread of the virus,” said study senior author Sara Benjamin-Neelon. She is a professor in health, behavior, and society at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health in Baltimore.
“These findings underscore the need for state policy actions that are guided by public health considerations rather than by partisan politics,” Benjamin-Neelon said in a Hopkins news release. For the study, her team analyzed data collected between March 15 and Dec. 15, 2020, on positive COVID-19 tests, COVID-19 diagnoses, and COVID-19 deaths in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
After adjusting for factors such as state population density, the researchers found that per-capita rates of new COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 deaths in the first few months of the pandemic were higher in the 25 states. Democrat governors (including Washington, D.C.). Still, those rates became much higher in the 26 states with Republican governors by mid-summer.
The shift for positive tests occurred on May 30, for COVID-19 diagnoses on June 3, and for COVID-19 deaths on July 4, with the differences between the two groups of states peaking from late June to early August. For example, on Aug. 5, the risk of dying of COVID-19 was 1.8 times higher in GOP-led states, the findings showed.
Both groups of states had similar testing rates until late September when they began to fall in Republican-led states. The researchers acknowledged that many other factors, including the pandemic’s natural progression from early waves in urban areas to later waves in rural areas, might have contributed to differences in case counts and death rates. Still, they said they attempted to correct for these confounding factors in their analysis.
Previous research had found that Republican governors tended to be less strict than Democrat governors when it came to mask-wearing, social distancing, and other pandemic-related prevention measures. Those findings and the new study suggest that the pandemic response’s political polarization has contributed to less effective prevention policies in some states, the researchers noted.
“Despite a more coordinated federal response this year, governors still play a key role in the pandemic response,” Benjamin-Neelon said. “As we’re seeing, several states have lifted mask requirements even though we have yet to make substantial progress in controlling the spread of the virus.”
Detainees in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement face inadequate medical care and challenges in accessing legal services, according to a report released Monday by the Democratic-led House Homeland Security Committee. The report, which is the result of a yearlong committee investigation, highlights shortcomings in the care of detainees and the oversight process amid allegations of medical neglect.
“Our investigation has made abundantly clear that ICE must establish better processes to identify and correct deficiencies at its detention centers that don’t meet ICE’s own standards of care,”
House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said in a statement.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, and its quick spread within ICE facilities, has further highlighted how failures to meet these standards of care are a matter of life and death for migrants and employees.”
he added. More than 5,800 detainees have tested positive for coronavirus, according to ICE statistics.
Whistleblower alleges a high rate of hysterectomies and medical neglect at ICE facility ICE said in a statement that it intends to “closely review the report,” adding, ” 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 are one of the agency’s highest priorities.
Over the course of a year, committee staff visited eight ICE facilities nationwide, interviewed more than 400 detained individuals, spoke with local ICE and facility officials, and reviewed facility inspection reports. Many of the detainee’s staff spoke with were seeking asylum in the US. The report comes days after a whistleblower complaint detailed a high rate of hysterectomies and alleged medical misconduct at an ICE facility in Georgia.
The complaint filed to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general also included a litany of concerns about the facility’s handling of the coronavirus. Democratic Homeland Security Committee members Reps. Kathleen Rice of New York, Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, and Nanette Barragán of California cited the complaint as another example of medical concerns during a forum Monday after the report’s release.
“These allegations, if confirmed, are not only horrifying, it would constitute human rights violations,”
Rice said. The 23-page report released Monday underscores persistent concerns about the care of detainees in ICE custody. For example, it found that ICE and its contracted facilities appeared dismissive about those in custody’s mental and physical care.
“The Committee encountered staff working at detention facilities that diminished the seriousness of suicide attempts as well as evidence of detainee medical issues going untreated,
” it reads. One of the frequent complaints heard by detainees staff was obtaining information about their immigration cases and accessing legal services. Another common concern shared by detainees was the misuse of “segregation,”
otherwise known as solitary.
“For example, individuals held at River complained that guards threatened to place detainees in segregation for engaging in permissible acts that detention staff considered disruptive, like submitting too many medical requests…”
The report says, referring to River Correctional Center in Louisiana. According to the report, inadequate care of migrants in immigration detention can also go unchecked and unresolved due to deficiencies in the oversight process. It alleges that oversight programs are
“too broad, too infrequent, and preannounce”
and that the Department of Homeland Security has
“few mechanisms to enforce corrections and rarely uses those mechanisms,”
among other issues.
“While the committee cannot speak to the conditions of facilities outside the scope of its review, the evidence uncovered was glaring in its demonstration of patterns of violations that persist across the country, different contractors, and types of detention facilities”
The report reads. ICE uses various facilities for detention purposes, some of which are owned and operated by private companies and contracted by the agency. In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general released a report that found ICE.
“rarely imposed financial penalties”
Despite instances of serious harm to detainees. In response to the watchdog report, ICE said it was committed to ensuring detainee safety and agreed with the watchdog’s recommendations to improve. Still, Monday’s committee report says issues continue. For example, a contracted inspector found no shortcomings related to detainees’ health care—still, a follow-up check by ICE.
“identified significant deficiencies that ultimately led to the transfer of detainees for their own safety.”
Falling short of standards, the report argues, can put detainees at risk.
“The Committee’s review of the conditions at ICE detention facilities confirms that ICE does not do enough to ensure that its own standards of confinement are met,”
the report concludes, adding,
“Accordingly, ICE must establish processes to better identify and correct deficiencies at its detention facilities.”