LOS ANGELES -- Immigrant rights advocates filed a sweeping class-action lawsuit in federal court against the Trump administration Monday, alleging that lax oversight by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security has caused severe deficiencies in medical and mental health care, as well as discrimination against detainees with disabilities, in nearly 160 facilities across the country.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, Disability Rights Advocates, and the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. The groups aren't seeking monetary damages, but rather asking the court to ensure that ICE closely monitor its facilities and improve health care for the approximately 55,000 immigrants detained on any given day.
Advocates have long said that detainees, especially those in rural facilities, experience delays and denials of health care. Many previous lawsuits have been filed on behalf of specific people detained by ICE. But Monday's suit argues that the agency is systematically denying care to those in its custody.
Plaintiffs, including 15 current detainees and two nonprofits, say that ICE and its parent agency, the DHS, have failed to take action against what they characterize as dangerously inadequate medical and mental health care, improper use of solitary confinement, and deficient accommodations for people with disabilities.
The lawsuit cites cases of detainees confined to their cells without access to wheelchairs or canes, diabetics denied insulin and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder kept in isolation for months.
Private companies run most of the nation's detention facilities. It costs the federal government $134 a day on average to maintain one adult detention bed, according to ICE's fiscal year 2018 budget. The National Immigration Forum calculates a higher cost of $208 a day. Each family residential center bed, which keeps mothers or fathers with their children, costs about $319 a day, according to the ICE budget.
Lawyers say that problems such as short staffing, unqualified medical care providers, and delays or denials of treatment, are not limited to a few facilities but are rampant and systemic. They say that immigrants with viable legal claims are forced to choose between continuing to suffer in detention or giving up on their cases.
"ICE cannot simply contract with third parties to operate its detention centers and then wash its hands of the deplorable, unlawful conditions in those detention centers," said Tim Fox, co-executive director of the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center.
ICE spends more than $250 million annually on health care services. According to the agency, detainees receive a comprehensive physical exam within two weeks of arrival to identify medical, mental health and dental conditions requiring monitoring or treatment. Nine of 396,000 detainees died in ICE custody during fiscal year 2018.
Spokesman Shawn Neudauer said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation but that the "absence of comment should in no way be construed to suggest that ICE thinks any particular suit has merit."