The Medical Care Crisis
Of the poor conditions in immigration detention facilities across the U.S. reported over the years, the lack of adequate medical care provided to detained immigrants is among the worst. This article
published online by the Texas Observer on October 2, 2009, and summarized below, illustrates how devastating this problem is.
The Observer article tells the heartbreaking story of the death of 32-year-old Jesus Manuel Galindo. Mr. Galindo, a Mexican man detained at the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas for crossing the border illegally after having been deported, had lived in the U.S. since the age of 13. In detention at Reeves, Mr. Galindo informed the prison guards that because he was epileptic, he was prone to seizures and required medication and medical attention regularly. Despite this, his requests for medical attention went unanswered and he was dramatically under medicated.
Scheduled for release on December 12, 2008, Mr. Galindo had notified his mother on December 10th that he was still waiting for the medical attention he requested on December 9th. He told her he was concerned about his health and that if she did not hear from him on December 12th, to call the prison. On December 12, Mr. Galindo’s mother did have to call the prison only to learn that her son’s body had been found. He died in prison from neglectful medical care. By the time his body was found he had already been dead for several hours. His request for medical care in those last few days was apparently never granted.
Reeves, located in West Texas, is the largest privately run prison in the U.S. It houses approximately 1,230 inmates. It is run by GEO Group, formerly Wackenhut, and the prison is a for profit business model. GEO contracts Physicians Network Association of Lubbock, Texas to provide medical services.
Sadly, Mr. Galindo was not the first detained immigrant to die within its walls. Inmates claim that Mr. Galindo was placed in solitary confinement after requesting additional medical care, and that this was standard operating procedure at Reeves. Those who needed medical attention were punished, sent to solitary confinement.
Mr. Galindo’s death was the last straw for the inmates. Upon learning of his death, the 1,236 inmates at Reeves revolted in an uprising and shutting down the prison. The uprising resulted in negotiations between the inmates, and several state and federal level enforcement agencies. The demands by the inmates were simple – adequate medical care and better food. Although agreements were made, the requests made by the inmates went unanswered and another uprising occurred in February of this year.
This story is not just about Mr. Galindo. It is about the invisibility and vulnerability of detained immigrants, about the lack of accountability we have against privately run (for profit) prison companies, and about a need for enforceable, uniform standards in place for detained immigrants. It is also about the more than 100 other immigrants who have died in detention. Their stories go largely unheard.
The New York Times recently wrote about Xiu Ping Jiang, a Chinese woman with severe mental health issues whose medical needs were initially ignored and whose condition deteriorated significantly during detention. Thankfully, Ms. Jiang has been released and is now receiving the care she needs, but hers is also a harrowing story of neglect. Neglect is simply unacceptable.
The Obama Administration pledges to reform immigration. Detention needs comprehensive reform, and among the issues, access to medical care must be a priority.