Lack of Medical Care In Immigration Detention Centers Has Lethal Consequences

According to a story from Human Rights Watch, stories of preventable fatalities due to medical emergencies in immigrant detention centers in the U.S. have begun to emerge.

In many cases, the people entered detention with a history of medical problems. The new “zero-tolerance” detention policy, which requires anyone discovered to have crossed the border illegally to be detained, means that even vulnerable people, such as children, pregnant women, and patients with long-term, rare diseases, are subject to detention.

The problem of poor medical care in detention centers is not new, and has been an issue that has been ongoing for several years. In most cases, it is the result of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) failing to follow its own procedures and processes for medical treatment, a complete and total lack of accountability, and willful negligence from detention center management and staff.

Take the case of Moises Tino Lopez. At the time of his death, Moises was 23-years-old and was incarcerated at the Hall County Department of Corrections, which is located in Grand Island, Nebraska. He was arrested at random when he decided to travel with his wife at the ICE office. She was there on a routine visit to update her address.

Moises first language was K’iche, and he did not speak English and very little Spanish. A review of the case by ICE inspectors found that the jail had no qualified Spanish translators, much less anyone to translate his K’iche. Instead the jail attempted to use another Guatemalan prisoner and Google translate in order to communicate with him about his medical problems. This was a blatant violation of ICE rules and HIPAA (medical privacy), and helped guarantee his demise.

Medication he was taking for seizures was giving him severe headaches, and he began to refuse taking it. Moises was never told of the potential consequences of stopping, and he had a seizure soon afterwards. Instead of being moved to the medical unit, officers moved him to a lower bunk and put another mattress on the floor beside him. He was completely unresponsive.

The next day, Moises was assaulted. The perpetrator was never found, but Moises was charged with assault and placed in isolation. This serves as a clear deterrent for reporting these incidents.

Moises was prescribed a new medication, but he refused to take it as well. No one ever found out why he was refusing, and no one ever told him what the drug was for or what the consequences for refusal could be.

After experiencing more seizures, he was prescribed more medication, but facility staff never gave it to him. Eventually, he was found blue in the face and completely unresponsive. He was sent to a hospital and place on life support, but he never regained consciousness. While there are many diseases that can cause seizures, the cause of Mr. Tino’s was never mentioned.

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