MANHATTAN (CN) — Gregory Harvey vomited every day for months while awaiting possible deportation at a prison in Goshen, New York, run by Orange County. As his weight dropped from 215 in 2010 to 164 two years later, the Jamaican-born green card holder complained regularly to medical staff about stomach pains.
By the time he was given an endoscopy in July 2012, the 41-year-old learned he had six months to live. Harvey was dying of stomach cancer that had spread to his liver.
Given compassionate release, Harvey spent his last days undergoing treatment in Florida. His widow claimed in a federal complaint after Harvey died in 2014 that the end of her husband’s life was one of constant pain and depression.
U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty advanced the case to trial with a ruling on July 10, rejecting the government’s reliance on a provision of the Federal Tort Claims Act that immunizes “any contractor with the United States” from liability for a government employee’s negligent actions.
“That does not end the inquiry, however, because the United States may still be liable if, during its handling of a prisoner, a federal employee breaches a duty of care separate from those duties that were delegated to a private prison,” the 13-page ruling states.
Crotty also rejected the government’s claims that the case lacks subject-matter jurisdiction.
“Whether this was a duty to ensure timely receipt of off-site non-emergent medical care under the standards or a duty to adequately perform undelegated responsibilities is a question of fact to be determined at trial,” the opinion states.
Harvey’s attorney, Adam Handler with Spar & Bernstein, did not return a request for comment.
A status conference has been scheduled for Sept. 5, 2017.
Harvey’s death speaks to a disconnect in the last administration between President Barack Obama’s stirring rhetoric about the United States being a nation of immigrants and his reputation among advocacy groups as “Deporter in Chief” for forcibly removing 2.8 million undocumented people from the United States.
Toward the end of his tenure, Obama attempted to temper that legacy by phasing out private prisons. The facility linked to Harvey’s death is county operated, but it is classified as privately run in terms of its liabilities as a federal contractor.
Many other immigration prisons continue to be run by for-profit corporations: A Huffington Post investigation found in 2012 that nearly half of all immigration detainees are now held in privately run facilities.
Overturning his predecessor’s policy, President Donald Trump is increasing the federal government’s reliance on for-profit prison corporations. Just this past April, the GEO Group received a $110 million contract to build a new immigrant detention center – the first under the new administration.
The move spurred a lawsuit in Washington by the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, which wants to prove whether Trump’s decision was shaped by more than $200,000 in political donations that the GEO Group made to a super PAC that supported his candidacy in the 2016 presidential election.
Geo Group and another leading private-prison corporation called CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, also face class actions accusing them of conscripting inmates into forced labor.
ICE declined to comment on the case.