Civil rights groups have filed a class action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement for failing to treat the medical and mental health needs of detainees. Two of the plaintiffs are being held in the Mountain West.
The federal case was filed on behalf of two immigrants’ rights groups as well as fifteen individuals currently held in immigration detention centers around the country.
The case argues that ICE isn’t providing adequate medical care and puts detainees in isolation arbitrarily and as punishment. The suit also claims the agency discriminates against detainees with disabilities.
One of the attorneys on the case is Elizabeth Jordan with the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, a nonprofit law office based in Denver. She said the list of specific grievances from plaintiffs is long.
“We have clients who have been waiting for very serious surgeries for months and months and months just sitting in excruciating pain,” she said.
Jordan said one of the plaintiffs, Edelberto Garcia Guerrero, held in the ICE detention facility in Aurora, Colorado, complains of untreated injuries from an assault while in custody.
She said another Colorado plaintiff, Hamida Ali, who is held in the Teller County jail (a facility that rents out beds to ICE), complains of prolonged periods of isolation exacerbating her mental health disability.
Jordan said these kinds of conditions have been widely reported, “but,” she said, “no accountability is actually exercised through the legal system, especially on a system-wide scale. And so that’s what we’re hoping to do.”
She also said this case is groundbreaking because it’s “the first of its kind to take on conditions as a system as opposed to facility by facility.”
ICE spokesperson, Shawn Neudauer, said he can’t comment on pending litigation, but that quote “comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in ICE custody.”
Neudauer added that “pursuant to its commitment to the welfare of those in the agency’s custody, ICE spends more than $250 million annually on the spectrum of health care services provided to detainees.”
He also said ICE detention facilities keep detainees in isolation at a lower rate than the country’s non-immigration-related prison facilities.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.