WASHINGTON – The Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing today on health services for immigration detainees in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. This welcome hearing highlights the need for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prioritize fixing this broken medical care system in its Fiscal Year 2010 budget.

«Today’s hearing highlights the dire need to improve a dangerously failed medical care system for immigration detainees,» said Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel. «Congress and the Obama administration have an opportunity to prioritize the treatment of immigration detainees with serious medical or mental health conditions. Now is the time for Congress and DHS to commit the necessary resources to ensure that all immigration detainees receive health care based on medical clinical judgments, not on government cost-savings.»

DHS annually detains over 300,000 immigration detainees on civil immigration violations. Many detainees develop medical problems that are repeatedly ignored, despite constant cries from the detainees about unbearable pain and suffering. Over 80 immigration detainees have died in DHS custody since 2002, and many of these detainees were in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, with U.S. citizen spouses and children.

Over the past year, the negligent medical care of detainees has been well documented in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee as well as in the media on 60 Minutes and in the New York Times and the Washington Post. In addition, the DHS Office of Inspector General has issued reports on detainee deaths and poor medical care for immigration detainees. Despite this attention, immigration detainees continue to die in ICE custody, with deaths occurring in recent months in facilities in Farmville, Virginia and Central Falls, Rhode Island.

ACLU of Rhode Island client Hiu Lui Ng, a 34-year-old Chinese detainee who died in August 2008 at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island, was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and a broken spine a few days before he died. For months, Ng had told prison officials about his excruciating pain, but guards and medical staff at Wyatt continually accused him of faking his illness. Despite Ng’s inability to walk, he was frequently denied use of a wheelchair, including when his attorney sought to visit him. A week before Ng’s death, officials shackled his hands, feet and waist and dragged him while he screamed in pain to a transport van. Parts of this abusive treatment were captured on videotape.

«Mr. Ng’s case of medical abuse should have sounded an alarm that our health services for immigration detention are badly broken,» said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. «Unfortunately, Mr. Ng was just one of over 80 deaths in a system that undermines American values of fairness and dignity. Congress must ask today’s ICE witnesses what steps they can take to prevent another incident such as Mr. Ng’s case from occurring in the future. Reforming immigration detention is truly a matter of life and death.»

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