ICE immigration center, United States
ICE currently detains, on average, approximately 38,000 people each day in a network of approximately 130 detention facilities nationwide according to ACLU and Physicians for Human Rights Via

SEATTLE - According to an investigation conduced by the American Civil Rights Union, about 95 percent of the people that lost their lives while being detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could have been saved with better medical care.

The joint project of ACLU, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), and American Oversight, provided a deep and comprehensive examination of the deaths of 52 people whom ICE reported to have died while in its custody between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2021.

The report found multiple flaws on ICE's current oversight and accountability mechanisms regarding death in detention centers. They have allowed the destruction of evidence, omitted key inculpatory facts and even failed to interview key witnesses. The report also found out that ICE detention centers lack standardized criteria for autopsies and autopsy reports in cases of detention deaths leading to inconsistent and potentially unreliable results.

Out of the six health experts that took part of the investigation, they concluded that out of the 52 deaths between that five-year period, 49 of them were preventable or possibly preventable if appropriate medical care had been provided. Only three deaths were deemed not preventable.

Medical experts consider a death to be preventable where the person's life could have been saved or the outcome could have been different with appropriate medical care.

"I saw significant deficiencies in what a standard, appropriate medical care looks like," said Chanelle Díaz, professor at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center and one of the health experts that worked on the project.

The study also found out that ICE detention medical staff made incorrect or incomplete diagnoses in the vast majority of cases of death (88 percent). One of these examples is the case of Emigdio Abel Reyes Clemente, who died of undiagnosed and untreated bacterial pneumonia, after the detention facility medical staff assumed, without making any tests, that Reyes Clemente had influenza. Two days later, he died in a medical isolation cell.

Along with all the findings, the report says that in 79 percent of the 52 death cases reviewed, ICE detention medical staff provided treatment that did not meet evidence-based medical standards, was inadequate to resolve the medical issue, or was unreasonably delayed.

That was the case in Wilfredo Padron's death. He died of a heart attack at the Monroe County Detention Center in Florida after medical staff failed on multiple occasions to conduct an EKG test or refer him to a doctor when he complained of radiating chest pain and elevated blood pressure

"I think that our investigation really shows what ICE has done to hide details of the failed medical care offered at immigration detention centers," said Eunice Cho, one of the lead authors of Deadly Failures: Preventable Deaths in U.S. Immigration Detention.

The authors made a call for ICE to make massive changes, suggesting more investment in a community-based social services instead of placing people in detention. As of 2024, ICE currently detains approximately 38,000 people each day in a network of about 130 detention centers nationwide. Congress recently increased ICE's budget to detain 41,500 people each day for FY 2024, costing $3.4 billion to taxpayers.

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