ACLU Welcomes Immigration Detention Medical Treatment Legislation

May 5, 2008 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Applauds Rep. Lofgren for Introducing Vital Legislation

Contact: (202) 675-2312,

WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union applauds Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) for introducing H.R. 5950, the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act of 2008. This legislation requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop procedures to ensure adequate medical care for all detainees held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The legislation also requires ICE to report detainee deaths to the DHS and Department of Justice Offices of Inspector General.

“The government’s failure to provide adequate medical care to immigrants held in its custody is disgraceful,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This legislation is long overdue. Far too many immigration detainees have suffered unnecessarily while waiting for DHS to provide them with the medical care they need. The failure to provide such vital treatment is an affront to our most basic American values.”

Lofgren’s bill was introduced several days after the U.S. government admitted its responsibility for the death of a detained Salvadoran immigrant, who was repeatedly denied a biopsy and later died from cancer. The man, Francisco Castaneda, was in detention when he discovered painful lesions on his penis that went untreated. ICE officials and the Division of Immigration Health Services ignored medical advice and refused to provide a biopsy, concluding that the procedure was “elective in nature.” In the meantime, Mr. Castaneda suffered tremendous pain and bled through his underwear for nearly one year. After being released from custody because of vigorous ACLU advocacy, Mr. Castaneda was immediately diagnosed with metastatic penile cancer; his penis was amputated and he underwent aggressive chemotherapy. Unfortunately, this treatment came too late and Mr. Castaneda died within a year of his release from ICE custody.

Currently, no government body is charged with accounting for deaths in ICE detention, a patchwork of county jails, privately run prisons, and federal facilities. ICE holds nearly 32,000 civil detainees on any given day. Getting details about those who die in custody is a difficult undertaking left to family members, advocacy groups, and the media. A front page New York Times story today described the challenges faced by family members, lawyers, and others to obtain information about detainee deaths. Since fiscal year 2004, at least 71 people have died in immigration custody.

“The ACLU is extremely concerned that the welfare of immigration detainees is too often ignored because, unlike other prisoners in this country, this population does not have the right to free counsel, often faces language barriers, and generally fears deportation,” said Tom Jawetz, staff attorney for the ACLU National Prison Project. “This legislation would ensure that immigration detainees receive fair and just treatment, including basic medical care. Mr. Castaneda was a tireless advocate whose death could have been avoided; we hope this legislation will prevent anyone else from suffering and dying unnecessarily.”

More than 300,000 men, women and children are detained by ICE each year. They include asylum seekers, long-time green card holders with minor immigration violations and families with small children.

“The ACLU has challenged deplorable detention conditions for more than twenty years,” added Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “This legislation has been a long time coming and should be welcomed by all Americans.”

Today’s New York Times story, “Few Details on Immigrants Who Died in Custody” can be found online at:

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release