Lawsuit: ICE Disregards Migrants Medical, Mental Health Needs & Discriminates

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Demonstrators opposing the deportation of undocumented immigrants hold up signs while chanting in English and Spanish outside of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash., on March 11, 2014. By Thomas Soerenes for AP.

New Nationwide Class Action Lawsuit Highlights Abusive Isolation, Horrific Medical and Mental Health Care, and Denial of Accommodations to and Discrimination Against Detained Immigrants with Disabilities

Los Angeles —A nationwide class-action lawsuit was filed today against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and others acting in their official capacities.  The lawsuit challenges the federal government’s failure to ensure detained immigrants receive appropriate medical and mental health care, its punitive use of segregation in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and its failure to ensure that detained immigrants with disabilities are provided accommodations and do not face discrimination as required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in the U.S District Court for the Central District of California. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of 15 individuals detained at eight different facilities in six states, representing a class of approximately 55,000 immigrants imprisoned by ICE on any given day, and two nonprofit organizations, Al Otro Lado and the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ICIJ).

The lawsuit challenges ICE’s systemic failures to enforce constitutional and statutory requirements at the approximately 158  facilities across the country where people in immigrant detention are held, resulting in the delay and outright denial of medical care, the punitive use of solitary confinement, the failure to provide mental health care, and discrimination against people requiring disability accommodations.

“This administration’s horrific mistreatment of immigrants is not limited to individuals at the border,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director for the SPLC.  “The fact that immigrant detention is supposed to be civil, and not punitive, is a distinction without a difference when it comes to how detained immigrants are treated.  At least twenty-six people have died since Trump took office, and tens of thousands have suffered as a result of the federal government’s abject failure to provide basic medical care at the facilities where taxpayers are spending billions to detain immigrants. More will suffer, and more will die, without court intervention.”

Plaintiff Luis Manual Rodriguez Delgadillo is a 29-year-old man who lived in California almost all of his life before being detained at Adelanto in March 2019.  Most of his family members are U.S. citizens, as are both of his two young children. His mother, Patricia Delgadillo, said “My son has serious mental health needs.  He was stable before being detained, but now he is experiencing hallucinations and other symptoms because they have changed his medication, and he has missed two court dates as a result.  Like any parents, my husband and I suffer with him, and we just want him to be safe.”

All of the named plaintiffs are individuals currently detained by ICE in repurposed prisons and jails.  They have experienced abuse and mistreatment ranging from the denial of proper medical screening and care to lengthy placement in segregation, to deprivation of medications necessary to manage mental health disabilities, to discrimination on the basis of disability and the denial of necessities like hearing aids and mobility devices.

Over the course of Fiscal Year 2018, ICE detained approximately 396,448 people pending a hearing on their immigration claims.  Many could be legally released on parole or with a bond, but ICE chooses to detain them instead, at an average cost of $208.00 per individual, per day. Instead, these individuals are packed into immigration prisons in which they are routinely denied healthcare and disability accommodations, are subject to arbitrary and punitive isolation, and are often unable to use the telephone to call family and attorneys, access a library, or receive recreation. Thousands have suffered in detention, many of whom have abandoned viable immigration claims and accepted deportation out of a desperate desire to be released or to obtain necessary medical care.

“The atrocious conditions in immigrant detention are an open secret,” said Tim Fox, Co-Executive Director at CREEC.  “Dozens of reports –some by the government itself – over decades substantiate the claims in this lawsuit.  The Detainee Death Reports the government publishes when people in immigration detention die in ICE custody provide textbook examples of medical abuse and neglect, yet DHS and ICE have done nothing to address these failures. And the risk is growing exponentially as this Administration needlessly expands detention by thousands of beds each year.”

Other plaintiffs include Jose Segovia Benitez, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who returned home from Iraq after an injury from an explosive device and was subsequently diagnosed with depression, hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, and PTSD, and a heart condition. He has received insufficient cardiac care at Adelanto and been placed in solitary confinement, which experts liken to torture, for behavior that may be a manifestation of his mental health disability.

“Immigrants with disabilities are at heightened risk of discrimination in detention,” said Stuart Seaborn, Managing Director of Litigation for DRA.  “Detained individuals who are Deaf or have mobility disabilities are regularly denied access to assistive devices, without which they may not be able to communicate, meet their needs, or participate in programming.”

Plaintiff Al Otro Lado is a non-profit organization that provides pro bono legal services to immigrants. “Our mission is to help immigrants fight their removal cases,” says Al Otro Lado’s Litigation Director, Erika Pinheiro. “But too often, we end up having to help them fight for their lives due to the terrible medical care they are receiving in detention.  When our clients’ health is compromised, their cases suffer, due process violations are common, and they are at heightened risk of deportation.”

Plaintiff Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice is a non-profit organization that advocates for immigrants in California’s Inland Empire, a region in Southern California that is east of Los Angeles. “Seven people in detention have died at Adelanto in the last eight years, and we don’t want ICE to add to that number,” said Javier Hernández, Executive Director of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice.  “We have had to redirect our resources away from advocacy towards adding staff to help people who are detained deal with health emergencies and bond.”

Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages, but instead, aim to reform the way our nation treats the human beings who have immigrated to the United States.

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Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) is a nonprofit membership organization whose goal is to ensure that everyone can fully and independently participate in our nation’s civic life without discrimination based on race, gender, disability, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), founded in 1993, is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center.  Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases.  Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting, housing, and juvenile justice.  

Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.  Through its Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative,  SPLC provides direct representation to immigrants in remote, rural detention centers in two of the states with the highest numbers of detained individuals, Louisiana and Georgia.

Al Otro Lado (AOL) is a bi-national, direct legal services organization serving indigent deportees, migrants, and refugees in Tijuana, Mexico. 

Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ICIJ) is dedicated to convening organizations to collectively advocate and work to improve the lives of immigrant communities while working towards a just solution to the immigration system. 

Orrick has 27 offices worldwide and focuses on serving the Technology, Energy & Infrastructure and Finance sectors globally.  Clients worldwide call on Orrick’s teams for forward-looking commercial advice on transactions, litigation and compliance matters.  https://www.orrick.com/en/About-Us.

Please see the attached complaint for more information.