National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Blog & Updates

“We Are In The Deportation Business”

June 17, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin

As we are learning (and have reported previously), one consequence of being put in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention is quite literally death.  Because of the way health care for immigrant detainees is restricted, many face consequences and 83 have died in recent years.  Now it appears that at least some think ICE leaders have been less than honest in congressional testimony about the standards of care given detainees.


CQ Homeland Security reporter Caitlin Webber reports that experts on detention and advocates for detainees feel that Julie L. Myers, Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security and the head of ICE, failed to disclose that “non-emergency conditions are assessed or treated only if doctors believe their illness would prevent deportation.”  According to the critics interviewed by Webber from the Detention Watch Network, the ACLU National Prison Project, and the New York University Program for Survivors of Torture, the policy is problematic for a number of reasons, but that this is not the first time senior ICE officials have not fully disclosed the standard for care.


“What I find most troubling . . . is that it is the second time now that ICE has been called to testify before Congress on the issue of medical care in detention and it’s also the second time that it has misrepresented the standard,” Tom Javits, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said in an interview.


Javits said Gary E. Mead, assistant director for management of the ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations” also diluted the non-emergency care standard in testimony Oct. 4, 2007, before the House Judiciary Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law Subcommittee. – CQ Homeland Security, “ICE Officials’ Testimony on Detainee Medical Care Called Into Question,” June 16, 2008


Pressed by the CQ reporter, Homeland Security/ICE spokesperson Kelly Nantel came up with this telling response:


“We are in the deportation business. . . . Obviously, our goal is to remove individuals ordered to be removed from our country…We address their health care issues to make sure they are medically able to travel and medically able to return to their country.” – CQ Homeland Security, “ICE Officials’ Testimony on Detainee Medical Care Called Into Question,” June 16, 2008


What does this statement mean for all of those who are detained but are seeking relief in immigration court – like asylum seekers? Or those who should be given relief to testify against employers or traffickers? It’s the classic idea that immigration enforcement is just about booting people out of the country rather than attempting to ensure that all of our immigration laws are fairly enforced.

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