In Response to the NY Times Article on Inadequate Health Care in Detention Centers

To the Editor:

The suffering and death of immigrants in United States detention facilities point to a still bigger outrage: the alarming breakdown of health care for detained immigrants and asylum seekers. This is a direct result of the longstanding abdication of responsibility by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Public Health Service, private contractors and local jails for the health of immigration detainees in their custody.

The harsh circumstances of detention and the detrimental effect on health have been known for years, and the victims include asylum seekers who have come to this country to escape persecution in other lands, only to find themselves imprisoned instead of supported while their claims are pending.

Congress and immigration officials must immediately take at least four steps:

  • First, they should provide the funds needed to protect the health of immigration detainees.
  • Second, they should enforce compliance with established standards of medical care in detention facilities, no matter who operates them.
  • Third, they should release from detention asylum seekers who pose no risk of flight or danger to the community.
  • Fourth, a bill to address many of these issues, introduced this week by Representative Zoe Lofgren, should be passed quickly.
  • Fifth, both Congress and the appropriate executive agencies should investigate the deaths of immigrant detainees in United States custody, ensuring that the health and human rights of those still in these facilities are protected.

Frank Donaghue
Chief Executive
Physicians for Human Rights
Cambridge, Mass., May 5, 2008

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