Skip to main content

CHICAGO —Three immigrants, all of whom have suffered serious medical neglect in ICE custody, filed a civil rights complaint asking the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) to investigate the ongoing medical neglect they have experienced in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. The National Immigrant Justice Center represented the individuals in their complaint, which charges that conditions at the Pulaski County Detention Center in Illinois continue to put their lives at risk. This neglect is so severe that one of the individuals is facing amputation of his leg—a procedure he is afraid to have done while still in detention because of the despicable conditions he is kept in.

“It is not safe here. When they bring me to medical, they just bring me back to bad unsafe conditions. The more I am here, the more my life is in danger,” said William, one of the individuals whose testimony is central to the complaint. 

This complaint is among the first CRCL complaints to be filed during the Biden administration. Each of the individuals suffer from chronic, potentially life-threatening conditions that have been persistently ignored by jail staff --neglect made all the more dangerous by the global COVID-19 pandemic that is particularly deadly for those with underlying conditions. The joint complaint is part of a push to ensure the administration is conducting custody reviews in a meaningful manner and releasing individuals where possible.

The complaint highlights three individuals suffering from medical neglect:

  • William -  A 61-year-old with a variety of chronic health conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure, which led to his hospitalization when he suffered severe symptoms from COVID-19. After poor management of his diabetes, William contracted a bone infection in his leg that has resulted in a need for eventual amputation. However, he is afraid to have the surgery while still in detention because of the unsanitary, overcrowded conditions. 
  • Jose -  A father who has lived in the United States for 33 years, he has spent the last 4 months in detention with unexplained bleeding and high fevers due to an infection. He has been asking for medical attention since early March, but detention center officials have told him to wait.
  • Carlos - An asylum seeker who was transferred to Pulaski with COVID symptoms, which were ignored by staff, leading to an outbreak at the center. He has had persistent bleeding, chest pains, and weakness for months and detention center officials, including the doctor, have accused him of malingering and refused to give him adequate medical care. 

All three of these individuals’ experiences highlight the terrible conditions in the detention center--the lack of social distancing, rotten food, and low temperatures and lack of access to hot water, which exacerbate their conditions. 

“The medical neglect all of these individuals have faced under ICE custody is absolutely unconscionable. We urge the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to do a thorough investigation of these cases and the conditions at Pulaski, and more broadly, urge the administration to conduct meaningful custody reviews and work to dismantle ICE’s inhumane detention system,” said Ruben Loyo, Director of NIJC’s Detention Project.

“This complaint is just one small part of an ongoing pattern of negligence and harm suffered by people incarcerated by ICE. No one should have to resort to filing civil rights complaints in order to get basic humanitarian medical care needed to survive, particularly in the midst of a deadly pandemic,” said Jesse Franzblau, senior policy analyst for NIJC.

The COVID pandemic has illuminated the rights violations and deep suffering that result from ICE detention, and exacerbates long-standing patterns of substandard medical care. NIJC has documented a long history of neglect and abusive practices in ICE detention, including in the Pulaski Detention Center. ICE inspections have repeatedly found that Pulaski Detention Center fails to meet basic requirements for standards of care. Nonetheless, the pattern of neglect and abuse continues today.