Whistleblower report: ICE provided inadequate healthcare to migrants

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), agents detain an immigrant on October 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), agents detain an immigrant on October 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) (2015 Getty Images)

A whistleblower report published by Buzzfeed News on Thursday alleges that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “has systematically provided inadequate medical and mental health care” to migrants detained in its facilities throughout the country. The poor medical care resulted in two preventable surgeries and four deaths in detention, according to the report.

The allegations were listed in a March 20 memorandum signed by Cameron Quinn, officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties with the Department of Homeland Security, and sent to top ICE leadership, according to Buzzfeed News. The whistleblower is described as someone within the ICE Health Services Corps, which provides medical care and oversight for the agency’s detainees.

One complaint detailed in the memo describes how delayed medical care and misdiagnosis at a Texas facility led to an 8-year-old boy having part of his forehead removed. The boy was diagnosed with an external ear infection and treated with ear drops only to begin having seizures two weeks later, according to the report. He was then transferred to a hospital where he was diagnosed with Pott’s puffy tumor, a rare infection that had spread from the child’s ear, requiring part of his frontal bone to be removed.

The whistleblower report says that inadequate medical care the boy received at the detention center was "a contributory factor resulting in harm.”

Another alleged case involves a man at a Georgia facility who was bleeding through his skin and given aspirin despite having extremely thin blood. As a result, the man began coughing up large amounts of blood and was taken to a hospital in critical condition. It was determined that the aspirin therapy may have caused harm that could have resulted in death.

The report also details incidents in which medical staff failed to follow procedures for drug and alcohol withdrawal, and incidents in which detainees were given inadequate care for serious mental illness. One such allegation involves a facility psychiatrist who failed to treat a detainee for worsening psychosis-related symptoms, resulting in the detainee lacerating his penis, requiring hospitalization and surgery.

Of the four adults mentioned in the report who died, one man received healthcare that a complainant described as “deplorable,” and another man received care described as “grossly negligent."

Another man died of suicide after allegedly telling staff that he would be dead in three days. The staff had been previously notified of his deteriorating mental health condition, the report said.

The memo also describes a person at an Arizona facility who was listed as dying of coronary heart disease. A complainant alleged that this ruling was “very misleading” and didn’t account for failures of the facility’s psychiatrist and lack of readily available medications.

The whistleblower report comes after a group of doctors last week were arrested for trying to administer flu vaccines to people in a detention center near San Diego. Since last December, at least three children have died from the flu while in ICE custody.

Earlier this month, ProPublica published surveillance footage from inside the cell of a 16-year-old who died of the flu while in ICE custody in May. The footage showed the boy lying unconscious on the floor for hours without receiving any medical attention.

About the Author:

Brian is an Associate Producer for ClickOnDetroit. He graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with a degree in Journalism and Screen Studies.