June 4 House Hearing on Deaths in Homeland Security Custody
June 2, 2008
The Department of Homeland Security has more than 30,000 individuals in detention and spends millions of dollars on their health care, yet the inconsistent standards of care and inadequate oversight are leading to unnecessary suffering and death.
Megan McLemore, Researcher, HIV/AIDS Program, Human Rights Watch

In a submission to the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law, Human Rights Watch highlights the poor health care provided to immigrants in US custody, and asserts that the Department of Homeland Security should be held responsible for any deaths or suffering that occur.

In the last five years, more than 80 immigrants have died while in the care of the department or immediately after their release from custody.

“The Department of Homeland Security has more than 30,000 individuals in detention and spends millions of dollars on their health care,” said Megan McLemore, a researcher with the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch. “Yet the inconsistent standards of care and inadequate oversight are leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”

Human Rights Watch, in a 12-page submission to the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law, highlighted the poor care provided to immigrants living with HIV/AIDS. On June 4, the subcommittee will hold hearings on the medical care provided to immigrants in detention. Human Rights Watch noted that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not know how many immigrants in their care have HIV or AIDS, how many need treatment, or how many are receiving the care they need. The department’s policies fail to meet national or international standards for appropriate HIV/AIDS care and treatment, and the agency fails to enforce its own minimal standards.

Human Rights Watch urges Congress to pass the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act of 2008 (House Bill 5059), recently introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).

“This legislation requires DHS to provide medical care that complies with national and international standards,” said McLemore. “Equally important, it requires DHS to report all deaths in detention to Congress and to the public – this brings accountability and transparency to what is now a very closed system.”

Human Rights Watch said that increased federal oversight is essential to ensure that DHS meets its obligations under US and international law to provide adequate medical care to detained immigrants.