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Complaint: Care at ICE Detention Center at Aurora, Colorado, Substandard

by Kevin W. Bliss

The American Immigration Council (AIC) and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) filed a complaint on June 4, 2018, on behalf of detainees held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colorado, (Aurora) for “dangerously inadequate medical and mental health care.”

They contend that conditions in Aurora violate the Fifth Amendment due-process standard and impede a detainee’s participation in the preparation of his or her defense in their legal proceedings.

The two organizations called for systemic improvements in care and more transparency at all ICE detention centers nationwide.

The complaint states that many detainees are civil detainees — not criminal. They pursued immigration claims, sought asylum or awaited deportation. Certain courts have ruled that their standard of care should at least be at the level of (if not higher) than those held on criminal charges.

Aurora’s facilities failed to meet basic medical-care standards as set by federal, state, and local statutes, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, international human rights laws, and several international agreements ratified by the United States. In addition, the Aurora facility violated nine of 16 of ICE’s 2011 Performance Based National Detention Standards, six of those considered “priority components.”

The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO), the nation’s largest private prison corporation, has been contracted by ICE since 1987 to house and care for immigration detainees, including medical and mental health care under the oversight of ICE’s Health Services Corps (IHSC).

They have continually employed only one physician at the Aurora facility, even after immigration policies under the Trump administration drastically increased the facility’s population and forced them to add a 432-bed annex. The facility now houses 1,500 detainees, placing an even greater stress on its medical-care system.

The Aurora facility has recorded two deaths in the past six years. Evan-Ali Mandza, a national of Gabon, suffered severe chest pains on April 12, 2012. AIC and AILA’s complaint alleged that the nurse was unable to properly evaluate him and that staff waited an hour after authorization before calling 911. Mandza was pronounced dead at the hospital, resulting from cardiac arrest.
More recently, Kamyar Samimi was detained at Aurora on November 17, 2017. An Iranian national, Samimi came to America as a student in 1972. He applied for his green card and became a permanent resident in 1976. After 40 years as a legal resident, Trump-era policies made him eligible for detention and deportation because of a 12-year-old cocaine possession charge.

When Samimi arrived at Aurora, he complained of abdominal pain and depression, and he admitted to methadone and heroin addiction. Aurora failed to follow ICE’s policy for those experiencing life-threatening addictions to be “transferred immediately to an emergency department for evaluation.”

On December 2, 2017, Samimi began vomiting blood and collapsed. He was taken to the local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. ICE reported the cause of death as cardiac arrest. The inspection report quoted “asphyxia secondary to aspiration of bloody vomitus” as the most likely cause of death. And the autopsy report stated that the cause of death was undetermined.

In both cases, ICE’s Office of Detention Oversight found no significant fault in Aurora’s medical care.

The complaint goes on to list seven other cases in Aurora of poor medical care. It told of a South Sudanese man who was placed in solitary confinement despite his diagnosis of PTSD and of a Haitian man denied medical treatment because his condition “predated his arrival at the detention center.” Other cases discussed denial of proper medication, access to specialists, and poor medical treatment from staff. In all of these cases, the complaint used pseudonyms because of the intimidation practices used to dissuade detainees from reporting abuses.

Because of the systemic failure for ICE to meet the standard of care required by law, the complaint sought an immediate and independent review of the medical and mental-health care at Aurora, the promulgation of enforceable regulations for medical services, allowance of legal service providers to access to medical records of clients for advocacy purposes, publicizing of all records of complaints and resolutions, to reduce contracted services to deliver medical care and enhance the role of IHSC, incorporate accreditation and independent oversight with for all ICE facilities, terminate contracts with services that fail to pass more than one consecutive inspection, and completion of online accessibility of Patient Medical Record Portal to allow released detainees access to their medical records.


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