Menendez’s Detainee Basic Medical Care Act responds to reports on the lack of basic care and oversight that has led to preventable deaths

WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today introduced the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act in response to recent news reports and lawsuits that have exposed seemingly systematic problems in the medical care provided at U.S. immigration detention centers. These reports and lawsuits demonstrate that detainees have in some cases died due to the poor quality or lack of medical care. Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) are original co-sponsors of the legislation, which among other provisions would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish procedures for the timely and effective delivery of basic health care to all immigration detainees in custody and would require DHS to report all detainee deaths to the Office of Inspector General and Congress. The Senate bill is a companion to Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s (D-CA) H.R. 5950 in the House of Representatives.

Senator Menendez said: “We can never lose sight of the fact that everyone who immigrates to this country, whether they are documented or not, is a human being. A detention should never amount to a death sentence. This type of action to ensure humane treatment and prevent unnecessary deaths at these facilities is overdue. Let’s not forget that many in immigration detention are there for minor violations, many for administrative errors. At some point, this becomes more than a legal issue – it becomes a human rights issue, and it is our job to do all we can to secure our country while protecting the dignity of all human beings.”

Senator Kennedy said: “In the rush to detain tens of thousands of immigrants rounded up in worksite raids or appearing at our borders fleeing persecution or civil strife, we have lost sight of the need to provide those in our custody with even basic medical care and a modicum of decency and compassion. This legislation is a major step toward ensuring that our immigration detention system is governed by sufficient standards of medical care and accountability. It is critical that we establish rigorous standards so that we can restore a sense of humanity in our treatment of detainees that is fitting of our long tradition as a nation of immigrants.”

Senator Akaka said, “ICE has the obligation to provide every man, woman, and child taken into immigration custody humane and dignified treatment. Recent news stories have reported egregious failures to provide basic health care to those in ICE’s custody. ICE continues to deny the problems, so Congress must act to ensure that immigrant detainees receive the health care they need and to require that ICE disclose deaths of those in their custody.”

Senator Lieberman said: “Inferior medical care is one of the most egregious elements of inhumane conditions at immigration detention facilities. Our history as a compassionate nation requires that we meet and maintain far better standards at these facilities.”


• Requires DHS to establish procedures for the timely and effective delivery of health care.

• Ensures that treatment decisions are based on professional clinical judgments. Currently, the medical decisions of on-site staff can be overruled by off-site officials without further review.

• Ensures continuity of care for persons with serious health conditions. The bill requires access to necessary medications upon detention and during any transfers.

• Requires DHS to report all detainee deaths to the Office of Inspector General and to Congress. DHS is not currently required to keep track of or report detainee deaths. The absence of a reporting requirement leaves Congress and the public in the dark.

In a recent case, a federal judge noted that Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “own records [of a deceased detainee] bespeak of conduct that transcends negligence by miles. It bespeaks of conduct that, if true, should be taught to every law student as conduct for which the moniker ‘cruel’ is inadequate.”


• Failure to provide basic medical care: While in detention, 52-year-old Boubacar Bah fractured his head during a fall and started behaving erratically. On-site medical staff assumed Boubacar was acting out and shackled him to the floor as he moaned and vomited. He was then put in solitary confinement, where he lay untreated for more than 13 hours, despite repeated notations by staff that he was unresponsive and foaming at the mouth. Finally, he was sent to the hospital, where he underwent surgery for multiple brain hemorrhages. After 4 months in a coma, he died.

• Overruling of on-site medical staff decisions: In detention, 35-year-old Francisco Castaneda sought medical care for lesions on his penis. On-site medical staff repeatedly ordered biopsies, but the biopsies were denied by off-site officials. After 11 months in custody, ICE released Francisco so he could pay for his own biopsy, which revealed cancerous tumors. Despite penile amputation and several rounds of chemotherapy, he died at the age of 36. A federal judge recently noted that this case appears to present “one of the most, if not the most, egregious Eighth Amendment violations [cruel and unusual punishment] the Court has ever encountered.”

• Denial of life-saving medication: Upon detaining 23-year-old Victoria Arellano, ICE denied her the antibiotics she was taking to fend off infections caused by her HIV-positive status. Her health quickly deteriorated, marked by high fevers, severe cramps, and internal bleeding. As she neared death, ICE put her back on antibiotic treatment, but of the wrong type. Victoria received no other medical treatment and died under ICE’s watch—just two months after first being detained.

• Senseless detention of vulnerable people: Although he had a valid visa, 81-year-old Haitian Reverend Joseph Dantica was detained by ICE because he mentioned his need for “temporary” asylum upon arrival. ICE detained him even though he was 81, had serious medical conditions, and had previously traveled to the U.S. many times without overstaying his visa. ICE stripped the reverend, despite repeated pleas, of the medication he was taking for his high blood pressure and inflamed prostate. Within days, he became ill and started vomiting, but ICE officials assumed he was faking and refused to treat him. When his condition worsened, he was taken to a local hospital where he was not seen by a doctor for another 24 hours. He died soon thereafter.