The deaths of three detainees since April coupled with the publication of several internal documents and watchdog reports documenting substandard living conditions at ICE facilitates has started to set off a public outcry, NBC News reports. The blowback has led many advocates to accuse the Trump administration of forcing too many people through a system that is not properly equipped to care for them in a humane and appropriate fashion.
“What we’re seeing is a reckless and unprecedented expansion of a system that is punitive, harmful and costly,” said Katharina Obser, who is a senior policy adviser at the Women’s Refugee Commission, which is an advocacy group focused on such issues.
“The U.S. government is not even doing the bare minimum to ensure [immigrants] are getting the medical care and the mental health care they need.”
Since President Donald Trump took office, 24 have died in ICE custody according to NBC‘s analysis of federal data. Another four individuals died shortly after being released from ICE custody. The number of deaths in custody has not yet reached the peak, which was 34 during 2004, the first full year in which records were kept.
For context, the recent spike in deaths comes as the total number of immigrants going through the system has hit a record high. As of the beginning of June, ICE was, in fact, detaining more than 52,500 immigrants a day in a far-reaching network of over 200 individual detention centers spread out across the country. During the Obama administration, that number was substantially lower at about 34,000.
.@ICEgov detains almost 50k immigrants – many in facilities run by for-profit companies. I’ve repeatedly pushed these contractors, auditors, & ICE about their failure to protect the health & safety of detainees. Today I’m taking another step. https://t.co/LABpj6Mcpn
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) May 31, 2019
“Deaths in ICE custody remain ‘exceedingly rare,'” an ICE spokesperson told NBC News in a prepared statement. ICE says that they spend more than $269 million to provide medical care to each of the 300,000 to 500,000 individuals who enter its custody each year. The agency also indicated that they conduct thorough reviews anytime there is a death in custody.
“[ICE] takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care, including those who come into ICE custody with prior medical conditions or who have never before received appropriate medical care,” said spokesperson Danielle Bennett in a statement.
“Any death that happens in ICE custody is a cause for concern.”
In December, an ICE supervisor warned that the ICE Health Service Corps, the agency’s internal medical service provider, was “severely dysfunctional” and that harm was going to come as a result. This was included in an internal memo sent to the now-Director of ICE, Matthew Albence, and obtained by The Young Turks.