LOS ANGELES (CN) – In a federal class action filed Monday, a group of disabled people held in immigration detention facilities throughout the United States accuse the federal government of ignoring their needs for medical care and accommodations.
The proposed class includes detainees held at approximately 160 facilities run by private prison companies under contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security.
According to the complaint, disabled detainees are discriminated against because there is a lack of adequate mental and physical health care. Those with mental health issues are isolated from the rest of the population as punishment and others with disabilities are left to fend for themselves, the class claims.
Raul Alcazar, 26, a deaf man held at a facility in the California high desert, says he’s been unable to communicate with a lawyer since he was brought to the facility in the last three months because federal officials have not provided him with a videophone or an American Sign Language interpreter.
Others include Faour Fraihat, 57, a partially blind detainee who claims his vision problems have been ignored by federal officials and staff at the Adelanto detention facility, which is about 85 miles northeast from Los Angeles. Fraihat, the lead plaintiff in the case, says a specialist outside of the prison recommended he undergo surgery to correct his eyesight but he has been largely ignored by Adelanto officials.
Meanwhile, Jose Benitez, a 38-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and a litany of other mental and physical disabilities, says medical checkups for his heart condition have been ignored. Benitez – who came to the U.S. from El Salvador at age three and joined the Marines at 18 – says he has become an unofficial interpreter at Adelanto because he took three semesters of American Sign Language courses at community college.
Hamida Ali, 28, is held at a facility in Colorado and says she was isolated from the rest of the population for nearly nine months despite suicidal ideations and schizophrenia. In one incident, Ali says a guard told her to stop saying she was suicidal so she declined medical care despite her previous suicide attempts.
The severe lack of accommodations at detention facilities across the U.S. is commonplace. Conditions at federal immigration detention facilities are far worse than federal prisons, attorney Stuart Seaborn with Disability Rights Advocates said in a press call Monday.
Elissa Johnson with the Southern Poverty Law Center said if the departments cannot adequately care for detainees in their care then they should consider alternatives to detention. She says detainees throughout the country are forced to choose between fighting for their immigration cases in inhumane conditions or giving up because they can’t take it anymore.
In a statement, Javier Hernández with the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice said seven detainees have died at Adelanto in the last eight years.
“We don’t want ICE to add to that number,” Hernández said.
A 27-year-old man died from a brain hemorrhage after he fell into a coma at the Adelanto facility this year. José Ibarra Bucio’s family say the detention center’s staff told them about Bucio’s condition one day after Bucio was taken to a hospital.
The Office of Inspector General issued a report in June that found inadequate conditions at four immigration detention facilities during surprise visits, including Adelanto. Inspectors found nooses in detainee cells, overly restrictive segregation, inadequate medical care and unreported security incidents.
California-based nonprofit groups Al Otro Lado and Inland Coalition for Immigration Justice join the lawsuit as the two advocacy groups work with undocumented immigrants, refugees and other individuals who require assistance or legal representation.
The proposed class is represented by the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center based in Denver, Colorado. They’re joined by Disability Rights Advocates, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the San Francisco-based law firm Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe.
The class seeks a court order barring the government from violating the detainees’ civil rights.
Homeland Security declined to comment. A spokesperson for GEO Group, which owns and operates the Adelanto detention center, rejected the class’ claims as “baseless.”
“GEO’s medical programs, at the 12 ICE processing centers around the country where we are responsible for medical services, provide 24/7 access to health care free of charge; are supported by professional teams including full-time physicians, a full-time physician’s assistants, a cadre of nursing services, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists as well as referrals to local community hospitals as needed; and are fully accredited by the American Correctional Association and the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare,” the spokesperson said in an email.
A spokesperson for Corecivic, which operates detention facilities in the southeastern part of the United States, said in an email that in most cases federal officials provide health care in its facilities.