Memo reveals improper medical care by ICE led to deaths, surgery for child's partial forehead removal
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A memo from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) whistleblower alleges that four migrants died in U.S. custody after receiving “grossly negligent” medical care, in addition to two who received preventable surgeries and two who were given incorrect medication. 

One of the preventable surgeries included an 8-year-old boy who had to have part of his forehead removed, according to the internal complaint, BuzzFeed News first reported.

In December 2017, the boy’s mother reportedly told officials at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, that her son’s earache had worsened for weeks. Medical personnel diagnosed him with swimmer’s ear and gave him ear drops, but two weeks later the boy had seizures and doctors at a local hospital diagnosed him with Pott’s puffy tumor, a rare infection in the skull. Doctors had to remove part of the boy’s forehead to treat the infection, and the whistleblower alleged that “inadequate medical care provided by [the detention center] was a contributory factor resulting in harm.”


Other cases of alleged medical neglect include detainees suffering from delays in treating withdrawal symptoms and one person who became so unstable he lacerated his own penis and required surgery. The report also alleges that three people died in ICE custody after receiving inadequate medical treatment, and another died by suicide after suffering from mental health illnesses and demonstrating suicidal ideations months earlier. It specifically cites Ronal Romero, a Honduran migrant who died of “sepsis complication with meningitis” after suffering from an ongoing infection.

“I’m grateful to the whistleblower for the strength to share this information in this way — it’s very sad what happened with my brother,” one of Cruz’s siblings told BuzzFeed News. “We believe he should be here with us. He was our little brother — he was everything to us. He was treated like an animal.” 

The complaint accuses ICE officials of delaying critical care, violating policies and procedures and a slew of other allegations.

The allegations in the whistleblower complaint were listed in a March 20 memo signed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Cameron Quinn. It was sent to ICE leadership.

The memo describes the whistleblower as someone within the ICE Health Service Corps.

In total, the memo describes 17 migrants who were held at nine facilities in six states. One man was given an antidepressant instead of an antipsychotic and another was given aspirin despite already having thin blood.

Four migrants endured withdrawal symptoms from opioids, benzodiazepine and alcohol addictions.

The allegations were first received by the Homeland Security inspector general in April 2018. That year, the center sent it to Quinn’s office, which investigates IHSC’s medical care and oversight, BuzzFeed News reported. 

The complaint also alleges that IHSC leadership was unresponsive when approached with the allegations. They “failed to take appropriate action” when told of violations in 10 cases, “did not respond” to concerns in one fatal case and told some employees to “hold off” on looking further into migrant cases. 

The memo alleges that IHSC “has systematically provided inadequate medical and mental health care and oversight to immigration detainees across the U.S.” It also alleges that the whistleblower was retaliated against for raising problems with migrant medical care.

“This is significant and very damning,” a former ICE official, who requested anonymity, told BuzzFeed News. “It blows up a lot of the ICE responses to allegations of poor medical care and about how it provides ‘the highest care of detainees.’ This makes that seem pretty false, which it is.”

An ICE official told the outlet in a statement “is committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in secure, humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement. The agency takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care, including those who come into ICE custody with prior medical conditions or who have never before received appropriate medical care. It also uses a multi-layered inspections program to ensure its facilities meet a certain threshold of care as outlined in our contracts with facilities, as well as the National Detention Standards and the Performance Based National Detention Standards.” 

The agency also added that it maintains a detainee helpline at (888) 351-4024 and has created an oversight body to investigate detention conditions.