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New lawsuit from detainees and advocacy groups claims ICE denied medical treatment

A group of detained immigrants are alleging in a new lawsuit that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has systemically failed to ensure individuals in the agency’s care have been given access to adequate medical and mental health care.

“This lawsuit is against ICE in terms of the people who are held in facilities across the country — it’s a class action lawsuit that includes every facility in which ICE detains people … which we estimate is about 160 to 170 facilities today, and that includes about 55,000 people who are in ICE custody,” Elissa Johnson, a senior supervising attorney with Southern Poverty Law Center, told ABC News in a phone interview.

Johnson called the lawsuit “the first of its kind” in its effort to challenge “the conditions of confinement in ICE custody on a national level through class-action litigation.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 15 immigrants who were detained at eight facilities in multiple states. It “challenges ICE’s systemic failures to enforce constitutional and statutory requirements at the approximately 158 facilities across the country where people in immigrant detention are held,” according to a news release from the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the groups who filed the lawsuit.

Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images
A privately-run illegal immigrant detention facility under construction in a cotton field outside this far south Texas Willacy County town, on August 11, 2006.

When asked for comment, the agency said it does not comment on pending litigation.

An ICE official noted that individuals who are detained have comprehensive medical care while in the agency’s care and said that detainees receive a comprehensive medical exam within the first two weeks at the facility. The official also said that detained individuals should expect timely medical care based on their needs.

The lawsuit alleges that ICE has both delayed and denied medical and mental health care to detainees, challenges “the punitive use of solitary confinement” and argues that ICE has discriminated against people who need “disability accommodations,” according to the press release.

The plaintiffs’ allegations include two detainees who, the lawsuit says, have diabetes and indicates that they both “were denied their daily dosages of insulin on multiple occasions.”

The lawsuit also says one of the plaintiffs who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression and suicidal ideation has allegedly “spent approximately nine months in near-total isolation without even a guard adequately monitoring her well-being.”

PHOTO: A sheriffs deputy talks to an immigration detainee in a high security housing unit at the Theo Lacy Facility, a county jail which also houses immigration detainees arrested by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), March 14, 2017.Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
A sheriff’s deputy talks to an immigration detainee in a high security housing unit at the Theo Lacy Facility, a county jail which also houses immigration detainees arrested by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), March 14, 2017.

Another plaintiff in the case is deaf, according to the complaint, which alleges that he “has been denied an American Sign Language (‘ASL’) interpreter in detention, which has prevented him from receiving effective communication with medical staff and his lawyer.”

All of the plaintiffs are “individuals currently detained by ICE in repurposed prisons and jails,” the news release said.

“This administration’s horrific mistreatment of immigrants is not limited to individuals at the border,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director for the SPLC.

“The fact that immigrant detention is supposed to be civil, and not punitive, is a distinction without a difference when it comes to how detained immigrants are treated. At least 26 people have died since Trump took office, and tens of thousands have suffered as a result of the federal government’s abject failure to provide basic medical care at the facilities where taxpayers are spending billions to detain immigrants. More will suffer, and more will die, without court intervention,” her statement continued.

SPLC was joined by Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in filing the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S District Court for the Central District of California.


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