40 Years of Social Justice: Spotlight on Health in Immigration Detention
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40 Years of Social Justice: Spotlight on Health in Immigration Detention

March 8, 2020

When I was detained I thought that at some
point I would be dead. They think we are animals and we just have
to accept whatever they say. One night when I was in a lot of pain, I asked
the guard for help but there was no doctor or nurse available. I feel like you fear for your life. In detention, I went through the most critical
and undesirable process of my life. The pain and suffering I experienced is something
that cannot be expressed in words. I almost lost my life. Prior to detention I was actually maintaining
my health issues, but once I got picked up by ICE, I went into detention, my health issues
got worse. Before I got in detention, you know, I handled
everything myself…. Go to my doctor… I no feeling anything, problem… When I get in detention, everything discouraging
me. I having, like, severe pain. Our clients are under the custody of Immigration
and Customs Enforcement and ICE will contract with local jails to rent out a wing to house
ICE detainees. People are just housed there anywhere from
several months to a year to two years while their immigration proceedings are happening. Most of the people are lawful permanent residents,
predominantly Green Card holders, mostly people with very low-level interactions with the
criminal justice system, often people who have not served more than or even a day of
incarcerated time or time in jail. Civil detention isn’t punishment, or it’s
not supposed to be punishment. And yet, they’re housed in jail facilities. Well, in March 2015 I was actually shot. From that point on I’ve been experiencing
a lot of chronic pain within my left leg. The bullet’s still logged in my leg and in
detention, they were supposed to do surgery. They asked for ICE’s permission for me to
get surgery done and they ended up denying my claim. One of the other cases that we worked on involved
a review of medical records of a patient in detention who was having issues with his gallbladder. He was complaining multiple times of abdominal
pain and was just receiving medication for gastritis or heartburn basically. So he was in excruciating pain and he was
finally told that he had gallstones. He needed surgery but throughout his time
at detention he didn’t get the surgery. They continued to detain him for four months
until we finally won his release on legal grounds from the immigration judge. Once he got out of detention he started having
really intense pain. He went to the emergency room and they had
to conduct an emergency operation because the problem had gone untreated for so long. He said, “That’s emergent surgery. You have to immediately … You have to get
surgery. You’re not to go nowhere because your gallbladder
is gonna blow inside.” The immigrant detainee population is much
larger than I think a lot of people realize. They are not provided with the healthcare
that they need. People who have family out of here, their
lives are disrupted. Their health is in danger. They are put at risk. If you have something that’s bothering you,
90% of the time you’re prescribed Motrin or Tylenol and told to go away. When I expressed my pain that I was experiencing to the medical staff, first they had me on Tylenol. It wasn’t working. Then they put me on Motrin. Then I started bleeding internally. The medication given in the ICE no worked. Anytime when I got a medication, this no work
in my body. I don’t know what’s going on. We’ve seen delays in access to surgery. We’ve seen inadequate pain management, delays
in mental health services or refusal to provide those services, including discharge
planning. We have also seen difficulty getting access
to interpreter services. This is, you know, a crisis. It’s absolute crisis. We were really finding that this issue of
needing to advocate for our clients who weren’t getting the right access to healthcare was
coming up over and over again, and it really went beyond the capacity that we had. At that point the Health Justice Program decided
that in order to assist people who are very vulnerable and very isolated and often are
Limited English Proficient, that we would begin to provide advocacy to people who are
in immigration detention to help them get the healthcare that they needed. We advocate directly with ICE for better healthcare
and we advocate with immigration judges for release from detention so that they can have
access to healthcare in the community. We also have brought impact litigation on
behalf of some recently detained individuals on the failure for discharge planning. We represent two people who were detained
in immigrant detention at Orange County Correctional Facility and were not provided discharge planning
before they were released. Discharge planning, in layman’s terms, is
how the patient is going to transition to other care after they leave an institutionalized
setting. When they go from having stability to an absolute
stop of care, they’re vulnerable to myriad dangers including mental decompensation, unemployment, homelessness, increased risk of suicide. Now, in the case of Mr. Charles, for example,
he was being detained up in Orange County, New York. He was brought down to New York City, basically
just put on the street with nothing including no measure of discharge planning, no medications,
no nothing. The lack of discharge planning meant upon
release, within two weeks he was hospitalized for two months and it’s been over a year since
he was released and he’s still struggling to get himself back to where he was, living
his life fine. New York Lawyers for the Public Interest would
like to hold ICE and these jails accountable for their actions. We would also like to see some change, some
systemic change, in the way individuals who are detained are granted access to healthcare. We have just released a really great report
spotlighting our work and the experiences of the individuals that we’ve talked to where
the goal is to shine a light on this forgotten population. I think it’s fair to say that we’re not in
a political climate where things are going to get better and easier more naturally for
immigrants. I think one of the things we’re committed
to in this case, and I know NYLPI’s committed to in this case, is whatever happens in the
political climate is to ensure that underserved people here, immigrant detainees in particular,
that their rights are protected. If we’re working together, we can try to understand
what these barriers are to healthcare access within the facilities and try to address them
as much as we can and document them. Since our founding 40 years ago by the private
bar, working closely with the large law firms in New York has really been one of the strengths
of the organization. We have many, many tools at our disposal. We also very much have an eye towards the
issue areas that are of interest to the lawyers, to the partners and associates that we work
with, as well as in-house counsel, and thinking about the things that intrigue and issue areas
that excite people so that we can work together to make New York a better place. Basic fairness and justice requires New York
Lawyers for the Public Interest to do what it does, to make sure that everybody living
in our city has the right to enjoy and live their lives here in a productive way, and
not be denied basic human rights like healthcare. For the past 40 years, we have fought for
dignity, equality and justice for all New Yorkers. We remain resolute in continuing this work
on behalf of the people that we serve and that we partner with. We will remain as a bulwark for their civil
rights, protecting the progress that we’ve achieved, but we also will make sure that
New York stands apart as a beacon of opportunity. Now that I’m out of detention I feel a great deal of hope. I now have insurance and I can get any type of medical treatment I desire rather than the type of treatment I was getting in detention. It’s like you come back to your life, you
come back to the world. Right now I’m taking care of everything, you
know, my health. And, I feel well. Thank God I feel well.

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