Press Release

Gillibrand Leads Letter Demanding Answers From Trump Administration After Multiple Reports of Inhumane Conditions In Immigrant Detention Centers

Jun 5, 2017

Washington, DC – Senator Kirsten Gillibrand led a letter with 11 Senate colleagues to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly demanding answers to a series of urgent questions after multiple reports of inhumane conditions in immigrant detention centers. Senator Gillibrand and her colleagues have received a number of reports that under the Trump Administration, detained immigrants are not receiving adequate medical attention when they need it.  

“We have received multiple reports of detainees ending up hospitalized due to delays in treatment, or because they did not receive needed medication, or because of the lack of treatment plans provided for people with serious mental illness after being released from detention facilities,” the Senators wrote in the letter.

“Hispanic Federation urges Secretary of State Kelly to prioritize the humanitarian rights and health needs of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants in detention in the US. It is absolutely essential that there is transparency and accountability for government agencies that are responsible for the care of detainees while in custody of the US government. We call on the Department of Homeland Security to respond fully to Senator Gillibrand’s inquiries,” said Jose Calderon, President of Hispanic Federation.

“Immigration detention centers are no place for children; these inhumane spaces are often run as prisons, and lack basic child wellness and mental health services. This is especially dangerous for children who have already suffered unnecessary trauma. It is critical that these facilities minimize suffering, and provide the most basic health care to all detainees, including mothers and fathers who are caring for children in these harmful centers,” said Naomi Post, Executive Director, Children’s Defense Fund-New York.

“Gross medical neglect in immigration detention had been chronicled for more than a decade. But the dramatic increase in the rate of detainee deaths in FY 17 raises important questions about whether essential medical and mental health needs are being properly addressed,” said Tom Jawetz, Vice President, Immigration Policy at Center for American Progress.

“Earlier this year, our investigation exposed the growing human rights crisis in immigration detention facilities around New York City and documented serious, often life-threatening deficiencies in medical care.  People confined in immigration detention facilities are held solely to ensure they attend future administrative proceedings.  It is not supposed to be punitive.  Many have lived, worked and raised their families in our communities as our neighbors for decades.  They deserve access to basic healthcare in detention.  They are not getting it.  We support the Senators’ advocacy in this matter and hope the Senators’ actions will spur systemic change and restore justice to this vulnerable community. President Trump promises to deport more people; if more people are detained, the threat to their health will only increase,” said Laura Redman, Director of Health Justice at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

“We have heard deeply troubling accounts from community members of the dangerous and unhealthy conditions in immigrant detention facilities. Since October of last year, eight people have died in ICE custody, seven of whom were being held in private, for-profit detention centers. We wholeheartedly support Senator Gillibrand’s efforts to ensure that all detained immigrants receive access to quality healthcare and are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve,” said Theo Oshiro, Deputy Director, Make the Road New York.

“The lack of transparency around immigration detention and the medical care provided is appalling. The public has a right to know how Homeland Security is using taxpayer funds to maintain a sprawling detention system that too often fails to provide adequate, appropriate care, leading to needless and preventable deaths,” said Grace Meng, Senior Researcher, US Program, Human Rights Watch.

“As a member of the CARA pro bono project, we were horrified to learn of the ninth death in a detention facility this year. We can only expect this trend to grow unless we change course and adopt more humane immigration procedures, including adequate health care for those detained, particularly vulnerable women and children. No person deserves to lose their life in civil immigration detention, or in any prison setting,” said Jill Marie Bussey, Director of Advocacy at Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC).

“Civil detention shouldn’t be a death sentence, but that’s the inevitable outcome of the Trump Administration’s misplaced and devastating immigration agenda,” said Steve Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “Eight people have already died in ICE custody, on top of the casual and ongoing violations of human rights such as withholding medications and life-saving procedures. The President and Secretary Kelly literally have blood on his hands, what will they do to wash it off?”

“We are grateful to Senator Gillibrand for her commitment to ensuring access to healthcare in immigration detention centers,” said Melanie Nezer, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees. “HIAS supports policies that honor our tradition of ‘welcoming the stranger,’ which includes ensuring the safety of immigrants and asylum seekers in detention.”

The United States maintains the largest immigration detention infrastructure in the world, detaining approximately 380,000 to 442,000 persons per year.

The full text of the Senators’ letter is included here and below:

Dear Secretary Kelly:

The Honorable John F. Kelly

Secretary of Homeland Security

Department of Homeland Security

3801 Nebraska Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20528               

Dear Secretary Kelly:

We are writing to express our concerns about reports we have received regarding healthcare access provided to people confined in immigration detention facilities.  As you know, the United States maintains the largest immigration detention infrastructure in the world, detaining approximately 380,000 to 442,000 persons per year.[1]  Therefore, we would appreciate if you could explain your policies and practices to provide adequate healthcare access to people in immigration detention.

As you know, inadequate medical, dental and mental health care provided to detainees present serious risks to their lives and health, causes unnecessary suffering, and in several cases, preventable death.[2]  Domestic standards in U.S. laws—whether through the Constitution or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) guidelines—provide protections to all immigration detainees regardless of whether or not they have been charged with a crime.  However, we have received multiple reports of detainees ending up hospitalized due to delays in treatment, or because they did not receive needed medication, or because of the lack of treatment plans provided for people with serious mental illness after being released from detention facilities.[3]

We therefore request that your agency provide a response to these incidents and make plans moving forward, specifically in regards to the following questions:

  1. Please describe your current procedures regarding health intake assessments for newly arrived detainees, and for discharge planning to people released from immigration detention to ensure continuity of care.
  2. Please explain your current procedures for dealing with detainees’ complaints and concerns regarding pain and other acute medical concerns.
  3. How does the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) handle detainees with vital medical treatment needs–such as dialysis and blood transfusions–to ensure that treatment is provided in a timely and consistent manner?
  4. Will preventive care–such as immunization, mammograms, pap smears, and screening for prostate cancer–be provided to long-term detainees in a consistent and timely manner?
  5. For children held in detention with their parents, what appropriate child wellness services are being provided to ensure healthy child development?
  6. Please describe the policies, guidance and procedures, including training, that you have in place to ensure that detainees who are limited English proficient have access to qualified interpreters and translation services when they seek medical services from healthcare professionals.[4]
  7. Given the negative psychological effects of confinement and solitary confinement,[5] what types of access do detainees have to thorough psychiatric evaluations, regular counseling, and comprehensive discharge plans?
  8. How will your agency make efforts to increase transparency in decisions to deny or delay requests for off-site and specialized medical care?
  9. During their time in detention facilities, do detainees have access to exercise and healthy dietary options to prevent the worsening of chronic conditions like diabetes?
  10. Please explain your process for reviewing and auditing individual detention facilities’ provision of medical care, including how often such reviews occur, and what steps are taken where deficiencies are uncovered.

Healthcare access for detainees is one of many concerns we have about immigration detention facilities.  Kindly respond to the questions contained in this letter within 30 days.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  We look forward to hearing from you soon.


KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND                                  JEFFREY A. MERKLEY                             

United States Senator                                   United States Senator

DIANNE FEINSTEIN                                       CORY A. BOOKER                                   

United States Senator                                     United States Senator

BRIAN SCHATZ                                             ROBERT MENENDEZ                        

United States Senator                                    United States Senator

TAMMY BALDWIN                                          TAMMY DUCKWORTH                                 

United States Senator                                     United States Senator

AL FRANKEN                                                 BERNARD SANDERS                 

United States Senator                                     United States Senator

PATRICK LEAHY                                             ELIZABETH WARREN

United States Senator                                     United States Senator

[1] Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). Immigration Detention Map & Statistics.

[2] Dickerson, Caitlin. “Trump Plan Would Curtail Protections for Detained Immigrants.” The New York Times, April 14, 2017,; Valencia, Milton J. and Sacchetti, Maria. “Out of Sight, Detainees Struggle to be Heard.” Boston Globe, December 10, 2012,

[3] New York Lawyers for Public Interest. 2017. Detained and Denied: Healthcare Access in Immigration Detention.

[4] Flores, Glenn. 2005. “The Impact of Medical Interpreter Services on the Quality of Health Care: A Systematic Review.” Medical Care Research and Review 62(3): 255-299.

[5] New York Lawyers for Public Interest. 2017. Detained and Denied: Healthcare Access in Immigration Detention.; Planas, Roque. “Immigrant Detainee Dies By Suicide In ICE Custody In Georgia.” Huffington Post, May 16, 2017,