Over the last six months or so, at least half a dozen children have died after being taken into custody by border patrol agents under the Trump administration, and the issue doesn’t even end there. An internal memo has now emerged painting a portrait of a chaotic and dangerous internal process for dealing with health issues inside Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Discussing cases like two allegedly preventable suicide deaths including one in which officials received and mostly ignored a total of 12 reports of causes for concern from those closer to the victim, the anonymous author of the memo in question calls ICE’s Health Services Corps “severely dysfunctional,” adding that “preventable harm and death to detainees has occurred.”
Addressed to then-Acting Director of ICE Matthew Albence, the late 2018 memo chronicles a number of cases in which reports that should demand action under any reasonable standard instead were ignored or grossly mishandled at grave risk to the health and lives of detainees. One person who was considered a suicide risk received nothing but an anti-histamine in terms of treatment, which is obviously completely irrelevant, and another who had been found to have tuberculosis was taken out of respiratory isolation at a Houston area detention facility.
Considering the facts presented, the memo’s author asserts:
‘Many detainees have encountered preventable harm and death. IHSC leadership is not focused on preventing horrible recurrences.’
The document and the cases it outlines are not alone in dangerous situations inside the U.S. immigration system under Trump that have attracted widespread attention. One whistleblower revealed the disturbing rate at which immigration authorities use solitary confinement against detainees to the point of thousands and thousands of such cases over the last several years, including to address issues like “wearing a hand cast, sharing a consensual kiss, or needing a wheelchair,” as the American Civil Liberties Union describes.
More recently, after an unannounced inspection of an immigrant processing center around El Paso, the internal watchdog agency overseeing the Department of Homeland Security revealed that “detained migrants were kept in dirty and extremely crowded conditions, forcing some people to stand on toilets to get some breathing room,” as HuffPost summarizes. The relevant Office of Inspector General themselves called the conditions “dangerous” and asserted that the situation demanded immediate attention.
These situations have arisen as the number of asylum seekers arriving at the southern U.S. border has spiked significantly. In April of this year, the number of such immigrants hit about 110,000, which while below highs seen towards the beginning of this decade, is twice the number of people apprehended at the border both in January 2019 and April of the previous year.
President Donald Trump has not undertaken any kind of comprehensive effort to grow capacities for handling these immigrants’ cases, instead responding with his relentless campaign for a southern border wall to literally try and push them somewhere else, as if that’s the best he could come up with. His team has also explored the option of transporting the asylum seekers to Democratic-majority areas as some kind of punitive attack on the Democrats, but that hasn’t actually happened yet.
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