June 30, 2011
SAN DIEGO – A district court judge approved a settlement earlier this month in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials agreed to provide constitutionally adequate levels of medical and mental health care to immigration detainees. The order grants final approval to settle an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit charging that deficient care at the San Diego Correctional Facility (SDCF) caused unnecessary suffering and death. The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties and the law firm Cooley LLP were also part of the lawsuit.
As part of the settlement, ICE has also agreed to change its policy on medical care that had led to the denial of what ICE deemed to be "non-emergency" care, including heart surgeries and cancer biopsies.
“This order marks a close to one of our most significant cases to date,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “ICE now recognizes that it is unconstitutional not to provide people in government custody with all necessary health care.”
“This case and its settlement will lead to a significant and much needed improvement in the administration and provision of health and mental care for immigration detainees held for long periods of time in government custody” remarked Anthony M. Stiegler, Partner at Cooley LLP, who co-counseled with the ACLU in the matter. “These detainees are often bystanders caught up in a complex set of immigration laws. Many of them came to the United States to avoid brutal persecution and hardship in their home countries. They have not been convicted of any crimes, yet often spend 12-18 months, or more, in government detention facilities. Once the government chooses to detain and house them, it also must provide constitutionally adequate healthcare for their well being while in detention. This settlement requires that to occur.”
The settlement requires that:
- detainees at SDCF receive health care that meets or exceeds National Commission on Correctional Health Care standards;
- an additional full-time psychiatrist and four full-time psychiatric nurses be hired to ensure that detainees receive adequate mental health care;
- immigration officials remove from existing policies all statements suggesting that detainees will receive only emergency medical services; and
- immigration officials include in the same policies explicit statements mandating that detainees shall be provided medical care whenever it is necessary to address a serious medical need.
The complaint, originally filed in June 2007, stated that detainees at SDCF were routinely subjected to long delays before treatment, denied necessary medication for chronic illnesses and refused essential referrals prescribed by medical staff. The suit specifically cited the cases of 11 detainees, including several whose bipolar disorders and depression went untreated, a man who was forced to wait more than eight months for eye surgery and nearly suffered permanent disfigurement and detainees who never received medical attention despite suffering from a variety of maladies including Type 2 diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, abscessed and broken teeth and severe chest pains.
Read the judge’s order. Click here to view the Practice Advisory.