Three civil rights groups on Monday filed a class action lawsuit against Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over the medical and mental health care provided at migrant detention centers.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) and Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), working with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, filed the lawsuit at the U.S District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of 15 individuals detained at eight ICE facilities. It seeks to "reform the way our nation treats the human beings who have immigrated to the United States."
The lawsuit alleges ICE has failed to provide appropriate medical and mental health care at the roughly 158 facilities it operates around the country. And it alleges violations of the Fifth Amendment by using detention to punish immigrants and claims the detention centers failed to meet standards for disabled detainees outlined in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Plaintiffs in the suit allege they were given improper care at facilities where they reside. One man claims he lost eyesight in his left eye after not receiving surgery recommended by a doctor. Another diabetic man alleges that he was given an overdose of insulin and never evaluated by a doctor afterward. Another plaintiff says he suffered a back injury and cannot walk without assistance, but has not been given a physical therapy appointment. That plaintiff claims staff has at points taken away his crutches and wheelchair.
“This administration’s horrific mistreatment of immigrants is not limited to individuals at the border,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director for the SPLC.
“The fact that immigrant detention is supposed to be civil, and not punitive, is a distinction without a difference when it comes to how detained immigrants are treated. At least twenty-six people have died since Trump took office, and tens of thousands have suffered as a result of the federal government’s abject failure to provide basic medical care at the facilities where taxpayers are spending billions to detain immigrants,' Graybill continued. "More will suffer, and more will die, without court intervention.”
The lawsuit also names the Department of Homeland Security, acting DHS Kevin McAleenan and other top agency officials as defendants.
Conditions at border facilities drew increased scrutiny this summer as border crossing numbers hit record highs.
Democratic lawmakers toured detainment facilities, sharing images and stories of immigrants in tight spaces with limited access to food or showers.
Immigration numbers have steadily dropped in recent months, which the administration has credited to increased funding for Customs and Border Protection and expanded collaboration with Mexico to limit immigration from Central America.
However, ICE still has more immigrants, roughly 55,000, in detention than it was designed to hold at any given time, causing significant stress on infrastructure and accommodations.
An ICE official disputed the claims in the lawsuit, saying that "comprehensive medical care" is provided to all detainees.
Brooke Seipel contributed.
Updated at 1:30 p.m.