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STUDY: ICE Ignores Protocols, Possibly Resulting In Detention Center Deaths

The upper half of a gold and blue badge set on a black leather backing. It reads ICE, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. There's a seal in the middle with an eagle holding arrows in one claw and olive branches in the other, with a breast with stars mountains and water waves.
ice.gov

News Brief

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hasn’t been following its own health protocols, possibly resulting in detention center deaths. That’s according to University of Southern California researchers’ review of 55 available death reports from ICE detention centers between 2011 and 2018.

ICE documents revealed that medical aid was slow, inadequate or completely lacking in some cases.

“Markedly abnormal vital signs were documented in the death reviews before 29 of 47 deaths from medical causes,” the researchers said.

And for 21 of those people, ICE personnel noted unusual vitals (like abnormal heart rate and blood pressure) two or more times before they died. Still, the warning signs were often ignored.

For one man, documents showed he had flu symptoms, including “grossly abnormal” blood-oxygen levels.

“Oxygen was inconsistently given. There was evidence that perhaps there was an infectious cause, causing this person’s hypoxia,” said Dr. Parveen Parmar, an associate professor of clinical emergency medicine who led this report.

And yet, she added, “Antibiotics were not documented to have been given. And ultimately, this individual ended up dying of a severe bronchopneumonia.”

ICE reports show many of these people lived in the U.S. for years, but died in days.

“Individuals who died had been in the United States on average for just over 15 years, but died a median of 39 days after being detained,” Parmar said. “And these were individuals who did not have a lot of (known) medical illnesses.”

The average age of the deceased was about 43. Of the 55 deaths, eight were suicides.

These findings are only part of the picture, though. There were 16 facility death reports they couldn’t access for those years, not counting those who died immediately after leaving detention.

“If an individual is released from ICE custody, and they die the day, two days, three days after they’re released from ICE custody, ICE is not required to do a death report on those individuals. And I know anecdotally of several cases,” Parmar said.

She said the government should investigate those deaths, too, and there needs to be a better flow of information to the public.

“We all agree, regardless of your political background, that we have an obligation to meet the basic medical needs of those individuals,” she said.

Parmar recommended having third-party reviews of deaths and bad medical outcomes in these facilities, and department-wide reviews of them, too. She said it's important the agency follows up with training, long-term monitoring and consequences for continued repeat offenses.

The documented deaths occurred all over the U.S. between 2011 and 2018, including in Arizona (6), California (9), Colorado (3), Florida (6), Georgia (1), Louisiana (4), Nebraska (1), New Jersey (3), New Mexico (1), New York (2), Pennsylvania (1), Texas (15), Utah (2) and Virginia (1).

ICE did not respond to a request for comment.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.