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Must learnedly read, too; in part, of intellectual rigor
|Posted Wednesday, May 7, 2008|
|Better Health Care Sought for Detained Immigrants|
By NINA BERNSTEIN
and JULIA PRESTON
The head of a Congressional subcommittee looking into complaints of inadequate medical care in immigration detention announced on Tuesday that she had introduced legislation to set mandatory standards for care and to require that all deaths be reported to the Justice Department and Congress.
This should not be part of the debate about illegal immigration, the chairwoman, Representative Zoe Lofgren of California, said of the bill, which she introduced late last week. This is about whether the government is conducting itself according to the basic minimum standards of civilization.
The need for the bill, she said, was underscored by an article in The New York Times on Monday about the 2007 death of Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old tailor from Guinea. His name was one of 66 on a government list of detention deaths obtained from Immigration and Customs Enforcement by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act.
Records show that Mr. Bah, who suffered a skull fracture and multiple brain hemorrhages in the Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey, was left in an isolation cell there without treatment for more than 14 hours.
Ms. Lofgrens legislation would require the federal government to establish mandatory standards for medical and mental health care, replacing the voluntary standards that apply now in the network of more than 300 publicly and privately run jails where the government holds people while it decides whether to deport them.
The bill would also require the secretary of the Homeland Security Department to report all deaths in immigration detention within 48 hours to the Justice Departments inspector general as well as its own. Immigration officials would be required to submit a detailed report on such deaths to Congress every year.
We are not talking about Cadillac health care here, Ms. Lofgren said, but the government is obligated to provide basic care. Many of those in immigration custody are there for minor violations, many for administrative and paperwork-related mistakes. Their detention should not be a death sentence.
Officials of the immigration agency, known as ICE, said they would not comment on Ms. Lofgrens proposal because they did not discuss pending legislation.
But officials said that while the number of immigrants detained had increased by 34 percent from 2004 through last year, the numbers of deaths in its detention centers had declined each year.
While a single death of an ICE detainee is a serious matter, we strive to maintain safe, secure and human detention conditions and to ensure that all detainees receive quality health care, said Kelly A. Nantel, a spokeswoman for the agency.
According to figures the agency provided on Tuesday, from January 2004 until last Friday it recorded 71 deaths of immigrants in its custody, including 5 since the list was released to The Times, 4 of them this year. Ms. Nantel did not provide details of those cases.
In the 2004 fiscal year, according to the figures, the agency detained 231,804 immigrants, and about one out of every 9,200 died. In fiscal 2007, when the agency detained a total of 311,213 immigrants, roughly one out of every 28,000 died. Immigration officials said the agency spent $91.6 million last year on health care for its detention centers, an 82 percent increase since 2004.
Ms. Lofgren said the agencys count of deaths could understate the problem, because detainees who were denied critical treatment could die after they were released or deported.
She cited the case of Francisco Castaneda, a Salvadoran who testified at the hearing last fall that he was denied a biopsy for a painful lesion on his penis for 11 months while he was in detention as an illegal immigrant, despite his pleas and doctors recommendations. By the time he received the treatment he had been seeking, in February 2007, he was found to have metastasized penile cancer, records show; his penis had to be amputated.
He was released from detention after a diagnosis of terminal cancer, and died on Feb. 16 this year at age 36, leaving behind a 14-year-old daughter.
In March, a federal judge ruled that the government could be held liable in a lawsuit his family is pursuing. The federal government admitted medical negligence in the case last month.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, National, of Wednesday, May 7, 2008.
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