Whistleblower Says Medical Care Withheld From Detained Immigrants, No Coronavirus Protections At ICE Detention Centers


KEY POINTS

  • Lasalle Corrections operates detention centers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Georgia, Texas and Louisiana
  • The complaint alleges officials refused to test for coronavirus when detainees were symptomatic and prescribed just over-the-counter medications
  • Staff members were reprimanded for trying to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines

A whistleblower complaint filed Monday alleges widespread medical neglect at the privately run immigration detention center in Ocilla, Georgia. The Irwin County Detention Center is run by Lasalle Corrections, which runs facilities in Georgia, Texas and Louisiana for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A press release emailed to International Business Times by Project South said the Irwin County Detention Center has a long track record of human rights violations.

The complaint, filed by licensed practical nurse Dawn Wooten with the Department of Homeland Security, details accounts from detained immigrants, who were denied medical care and describes unsafe work practices and inadequate coronavirus protections.

Among the allegations were officials’ refusal to test symptomatic individuals for coronavirus, prescribing over-the-counter medications for treating COVID-19 symptoms, failure to quarantine suspected cases of the virus, failing to maintain hygiene and sanitation standards, failing to provide personal protective equipment to staff and reprimanding staff who tried to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“The medical unit is not helpful at all, even if you are dying,” a detainee told Project South. “For everything, including serious illnesses, they just hand out ibuprofen.”

Detainees said medications for such serious diseases as breast cancer and HIV were withheld.

The complaint also alleges ICE violated CDC rules by transferring immigrants with confirmed cases of coronavirus.

“Ms. Wooten’s whistleblowing disclosures reveal not only gross mismanagement from LaSalle leadership, but actions that deliberately put the health of detainees, workers and the public at risk. It is up to DHS … to enforce protective measures against the rampant spread of COVID-19,” said John Whitty, a staff attorney at the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower protection organization.

Project South staff attorney Priyanka Bhatt said the complaint confirms “what detained immigrants have been reporting for years: gross disregard for health and safety standards, lack of medical care and unsanitary living conditions at Irwin.”

An American Civil Liberties Union report indicated the U.S. now has more than 200 detention facilities across the country with a daily capacity of 60,000 people. At least 81% of those who are being detained are being held in privately operated facilities – most of which opened after 2017. The Trump administration has asked for $4.1 billion for ICE operations in fiscal 2021to expand capacity.

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