CIR Action Item : Better Medical Care for Detainees

The agenda for comprehensive immigration reform is long and crowded, but most would agree that a fundamental overhaul of U.S. detainee policy is in order. The latest revelation about the dysfunctional immigration detention system came from Florida, where a Haitian-born woman received a $47,500 settlement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement because she was denied treatment for uterine fibroid cysts during seven months in immigration custody. (“Woman Gets $47.5K in Suit,” by Jennifer Kay, Associated Press, Miami Herald, Dec 19, 2009).

According to the Miami Herald, the woman was being treated for the problem when she was first detained by ICE, and her medical records clearly indicated that she needed surgery. Nonetheless, medical staff at the detention center belittled her complaints, and instead of the needed surgery, provided only palliative care in the form of Tylenol and iron pills.

The case has disturbing echoes of another, still more egregious case, in which an elderly Haitian immigrant – a Baptist minister and founder of a church and school in Port-au-Prince – died in ICE custody after his pleas for medical assistance were trivialized.  Medical staff accused the man of faking the symptoms that eventually caused his death.  That man was Joseph Dantica, and his story came to the world’s attention when his niece – the award-winning Haitian-American writer, Edwidge Danticat – published an account of his life and death, in 2007, entitled Brother, I’m Dying.  She testified about this to the House Judiciary Committee that same year, and one hopes she will be back again next year, to keep this issue high on the agenda of lawmakers in the coming CIR debate.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.