DHS watchdog: ICE failed to provide proper medical attention to immigrant who then died in custody

DHS watchdog: ICE failed to provide proper medical attention to immigrant who then died in custody

The official version of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) watchdog report obtained by BuzzFeed News last month confirms that officials at a privately operated prison failed to provide sufficient medical attention to an immigrant experiencing chest and arm pain. While 51-year-old Anthony Jones was given medication (reportedly aspirin) and an electrocardiogram, he was not sent to a hospital. 

Jones, a Bahamian national who’d been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for over a year, then collapsed while he was waiting to be transported back to his cell at CoreCivic’s Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez, Mississippi. “Although paramedics arrived and performed resuscitation efforts, the detainee was pronounced dead,” the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) said following a surprise inspection.

“Specifically, on December 17, 2020, a detainee with a history of hypertension requested medical attention due to chest pains and pain in his arms,” the report said. “The detainee was taken to the Adams medical unit where he was given medication and oxygen. An electrocardiogram (ECG) was performed and reported to show ‘no acute changes’ and the detainee was released.”

But officials apparently failed to compare the December results to another ECG taken in October 2019. The DHS OIG said in the report that “there was a clear change from that ECG to the one performed on December 17, 2020, the day he died.”

“Based on a review of medical records and the autopsy report, our medical contractor concluded that had the Adams medical staff compared the 2019 ECG with the one conducted on December 17, 2020, it should have prompted the medical staff to call 911 and send the detainee to the hospital where life support care would have been readily available,” the report continued. BuzzFeed News’ report said that Jones was found slumped over in a chair.

Jeremy Jong, an attorney representing the Jones family, told BuzzFeed News last month “[t]his is a problem endemic to all detention centers.” A congressional report last year in fact revealed “a widespread failure to provide necessary medical care to detainees” so egregious its led to several deaths, including another heart-related death at another CoreCivic facility. “Investigators found that the officer falsified observation logs to hide the fact that he had failed to conduct welfare checks over that 51-minute period,” the congressional report said.

The inspector general’s report also revealed that facility still got more than $17 million in taxpayer funds even though many beds went empty. While Adams detained a fewer number of immigrants due to the pandemic, ICE’s federal contracts guarantee sites still their cash even if no one’s in the bed. Nationally, sites have been paid for thousands of empty beds during the pandemic. The solution, of course, isn’t to detain more people so those beds get filled, it’s to end these wasteful and cruel agreements we’re paying for.

Unfortunately, ICE’s long history of abuse and neglect got little attention at last week’s Senate hearing for Texas sheriff Ed Gonzalez, President Joe Biden’s nominee to officially head ICE. Instead, responses and topics “seemed to suggest he wants mostly more of the same,” wrote immigration policy expert Aaron Reichlin-Melnick. “If true, this represents a significant missed opportunity to chart a new way forward on immigration enforcement in the United States.”

“During the confirmation, Gonzalez pulled away from any open critique of ICE,” Reichlin-Melnick continued. “Little attention was paid to the major problems at ICE that have been documented in recent years,” including abuses at privately contracted immigration detention facilities. “Gonzalez did indicate that he believed the ‘health and safety of our facilities is paramount,’ but did not express any urgency at ensuring such issues are addressed.” Lack of urgency could cost even more lives.

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