Immigrants Sue U.S. Government, Illinois County Jail for Inhumane Detention Conditions and Neglectful Medical Care

February 6, 2013

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Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) today filed a lawsuit against officials of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Jefferson County, Illinois, on behalf of seven immigrants who were held at the Jefferson County Justice Center under unsanitary conditions and with inadequate health care.

The lawsuit follows ICE’s evacuation of dozens of immigrants from the facility in November 2012, when all but one member of the facility’s medical staff had resigned or tendered their resignation, including the jail’s only doctor. NIJC has since documented reports of MRSA, tuberculosis, respiratory infections, and skin funguses which occurred among the jail’s ICE populations in the weeks leading up to the resignations and evacuation.

The lawsuit challenges the validity of ICE’s contract with Jefferson County, as well as widespread constitutional violations at the jail. Under federal law, ICE cannot detain people at facilities that are found to be “deficient” on two consecutive inspections. But even though Jefferson County Justice Center failed ICE inspections in four consecutive years from 2006 to 2009, ICE signed a contract and began to house immigrants there in 2009. Furthermore, the inspections that have taken place since 2009 were based on detention standards that that have been superseded.

“ICE’s contract with Jefferson County contradicts Congress’ mandate to detain immigrants in facilities that meet humane standards. ICE’s failure to adequately inspect and conduct proper oversight of the jail has set the stage for widespread, deplorable conditions of detention,” said NIJC Associate Director of Litigation Claudia Valenzuela, co-counsel in the case along with NIJC’s Mark Fleming and Chuck Roth. “The government cannot be allowed to confine people in facilities that are unable to provide for basic care and human rights.”

Immigrants who were held in ICE custody at Jefferson County during fall 2012 paint a grim picture: requests for medical treatment were repeatedly ignored, showers and restrooms were crusted with mold, drinking water was brown and putrid, jail pods were poorly ventilated, jail uniforms were tattered and soiled, and immigrants had no outdoor recreation or meaningful access to sunlight.

About 70 percent of the more than 420,000 men and women detained by ICE in fiscal year 2012 were held at state and local jails like Jefferson County Justice Center.

“The situation at Jefferson County is not isolated, and it is a consequence of ICE’s failure to exercise meaningful oversight over its detention system,” said NIJC Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “We see similar egregious conditions and lack of concern for even the most basic health and sanitary measures at ICE-contracted jails throughout the country. ICE must be held accountable for the wellbeing of people in its custody.”

The full complaint and exhibits in Padron et al. v. ICE et al. are available for download at www.immigrantjustice.org/court_cases/padron-et-al-v-ice-et-al