Since its founding in 2003, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency within the Department of Homeland Security has been the cause for plenty of contention and debate. As Quartz notes, the Department of Justice said in 2004 that ICE is meant to "prevent acts of terrorism by targeting the people, money, and materials that support terrorist and criminal activities." But that explanation doesn't quite align with far more sinister truths: Many immigrants are rightfully afraid of ICE and the agency's raids, and conditions at the detention facilities it operates are growing more dire and inhumane.
On Sunday (December 29), a 40-year-old man died at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico, BuzzFeed News reports. He was a French citizen originally from Angola, per CNN, and had been held in ICE custody since November 12. A cause of death has not yet been made public; CNN reports that his next-of-kin in France is being notified before his identity is made public.
BuzzFeed notes the man was being detained at the Otero County Processing Center, a for-profit facility with a long history of alleged abuse towards the people imprisoned there; he was later moved to the Torrance County Detention Facility before being transported to a hospital. Torrance was temporarily closed from 2017 to early 2019. In 2011, a man who was being detained there died after being given inadequate medical treatment; officials had given him cough syrup and TUMS to treat symptoms related to a coronary artery disease, Reveal News reports.
At least 10 adults died while in ICE custody in 2019; this is technically the fourth death in the 2020 fiscal year, which begins each October. According to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill of 2018, ICE is required to make public each death that occurs specifically under their watch within 90 days; neither this death, nor that of Anthony Oluseye Akinyemi, a 56-year-old man who died on December 23, have formally been added to the list, which also deadnames Roxana Hernández, a transgender woman from Honduras who died in ICE custody in May 2018. ICE did not return a request for comment made by MTV News as to why the agency is deadnaming her.
At least six children have also died in ICE custody since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the New York Times reports. Carlos Hernandez Vasquez was 16 years old when he died in a cell in McAllen, Texas, this past May; a nurse practitioner had recommended that he be moved to a hospital, but that advice was left unheeded. In 2018, 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo also died of the flu, after being held in a detention facility for 6 days.
This past December, four doctors were among those arrested at a detention facility run by Customs and Border Protection; they were protesting the lack of action both the CBP and ICE have shown in providing detained people with flu shots, and had even offered to set up a vaccination clinic at the site. At the time, CBP said it wasn't "feasible" to orchestrate a mobile clinic; a CBP spokesperson told The Guardian it does not administer things like flu shots.
According to a statement provided to MTV News by an ICE spokesperson, the agency maintains that it provides "comprehensive medical care" to the people it detains. "All ICE detainees receive medical, dental and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care. Pursuant to our commitment to the welfare of those in the agency’s custody, ICE annually spends more than $269 million on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to detainees," the statement adds. President Donald Trump requested that ICE be given a budget of $8.3 billion for the 2019 fiscal year, more than any other year in the agency's history.
2004, a year after ICE was created, marked the highest number of detainee deaths; per public records, 32 people died while being held in ICE custody that year. The death rate dropped dramatically the following year, and had been on a steady decline ever since, but began rising in 2016, when 12 people in custody died. (The public records do not account for the deaths of people who had recently been released from ICE custody; the American Immigration Lawyers Association has also compiled a list of people who died shortly after their release.)
According to a 2015 study conducted by the Center for Health and Human Rights at New York University's Langone Medical School, the most common causes of death for detained people in ICE custody between 2003 and 2015 were cardiovascular disease, cancer, and death by suicide. A June 2018 report from Human Rights Watch found that in eight of the 15 deaths in ICE custody that occurred between December 2015 and April 2017, "inadequate medical care contributed or led to the person’s death."
Politicians are now joining activists in calling for ICE to be dismantled; Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has called for the agency to be replaced, while Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has called for the entire Department of Homeland Security to be reorganized.