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Documents Allege Serious Medical Neglect Inside Otay Mesa Detention Center

 August 15, 2019 at 10:40 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 This summer. We've seen disturbing images from inside border detention centers. Some centers have packed immigrants into cells and left children without adequate care. But what about immigrants who enter the U s with injuries or health problems? How are they treated in detention? A report by voice of San Diego based in part on a California Attorney General's report and documents obtained through the freedom of Information Act, finds a history of medical neglect at the ty Mesa detention center. The only immigration detention facility in San Diego County. Joining me by Skype is voice of San Diego reporter Maya, Sri Christian and Maya. Welcome. Thank you for having me. You begin your report with the story of a current asylum seeker from Guatemala detained at Oti Mesa. What kind of medical problem does he have and how is he being treated? Speaker 2: 00:53 So, uh, this particular asylum seeker from Guatemala, he was suffering from a gunshot wound that he received in Guatemala that was related to his asylum claim. And he also, um, the way up to the u s picked up some condition where now his ears and eyes start to bleed sporadically. So, you know, while he's in the detention facility, he's gone to the medical staff there and has tried to get some sort of treatment. He remains undiagnosed according to his attorney and he's usually just given Ibuprofen. But since they don't know what's causing the bleeding from his ears and eyes, they are keeping him in solitary confinement just in case it's contagious. So, you know, now we have a man who's not really receiving the medical treatment he needs and is in solitary confinement at this 0.4 or five or six weeks a because they don't know whether he's contagious and they're not releasing him to let him seek out other medical treatment or anything like that. Speaker 1: 01:55 Now you talk in your report about a mumps outbreak at Oti Mesa. Is that still going on? Speaker 2: 02:01 Well, there's been several months outbreaks at this detention facility and other teching facilities in the past year. Um, I think just when you have a lot of people who are coming from these long journeys, you've maybe had to stay in shelters and various parts of Mexico and to want to, um, that maybe aren't the most sanitary conditions. You're getting a lot of people who are entering into the facility who already have compromised immune systems. So having outbreaks in these facilities, as far as I know, has, is fairly normal. Um, and it happens fairly frequently. Speaker 1: 02:35 You discovered a number of other stories about immigrants not getting proper medical care at Oti Mesa. Can you share some of those? Speaker 2: 02:42 I found some pretty disturbing things. I mean, there was one case where a man said that he was on hunger strike because the facility wouldn't provide a special diet that had actually been prescribed to him by another doctor at a different detention facility. Um, another man said that his, um, medical bag has cost me bag hadn't been changed in such a long time that his skin was burning, um, from the excrement that was leaking. Speaker 1: 03:12 What does immigration and customs enforcement have to say about these claims of medical neglect? Speaker 2: 03:18 They say that they are in line with national detention standards, um, and that everyone has access to medical care on a daily basis, uh, and that they screen detainees upon 12 hours of, of arriving at the facility. So, you know, they say that they are in compliance with everything that they need to be doing. Speaker 1: 03:36 And what kinds of facilities does Oti Mesa have to treat patients? Speaker 2: 03:40 So I operate, you know, there's like a medical, I guess you could call it a wing, you know, there's some examination rooms. Uh, and then if people require a specialist, uh, they will provide them transportation to go see outside specialists outside of the facility. Speaker 1: 03:56 Yeah. In the statement you received from ice, they say detainees are referred to outside primary care doctors and specialists as needed. Did you find that kind of referral happened in the cases you studied Speaker 2: 04:08 and the specific cases that I received, I did not see that in the detailed court cases. In some of the complaints, I did see that. So there were, um, this wasn't in the story, but there were some cases where someone maybe had broken their nose and had to have surgery and they got that surgery outside of the facility. Speaker 1: 04:26 Now you interviewed attorneys for asylum seekers who say that they're finding it more difficult now to get sick immigrants paroled out of detention. Tell us about that. Speaker 2: 04:36 So one of the attorneys I spoke with, I'm part of what she does in addition to representing people on their immigration claim. This I'm helping to get people out of detention. And one of the things she really focuses on people who have serious medical concerns and are deteriorating health wise in the detention facility. And she was saying that, you know, back in the spring she was having better luck if she would put together a parole packet, which is what they require to, um, have them release, which would basically say that they have no criminal history. Um, they're not a plight risk. They have a sponsor in the u s who would, you know, care for them and make sure that they go to their hearings. Um, and then she would include their medical conditions and oftentimes she would include like an outside doctor who would review their case and basically say that, you know, they were not safe staying in this facility. Um, and she had had some luck in the past with having people released if she would fill out those packets. Um, and she was saying that, um, recently she's tried very similar cases to ones that she's had released before and she hasn't been able to get them released. Speaker 1: 05:45 Who makes the determination whether someone can be transferred out of Oti Mesa? Speaker 2: 05:49 So it depends on how someone comes into the facility. But if an asylum seeker, for example, request asylum at a port entry, then they go through an ace officer and the ice officer basically has the discretionary ability to decide whether they should be released or not. If someone enters the country illegally, um, or as found in the country illegally, then they have to go through an immigration judge chair request. Speaker 1: 06:16 Now is there any legal action underway to challenge these alleged conditions of medical neglect at OTA Mesa? Speaker 2: 06:24 There have been a couple of civil cases in the past. I'm a family members who had passed away in the facility. The ACLU while ago had a lawsuit. Um, but as far as I know, there is nothing right now that is specifically just looking at medical care in the facility. Speaker 1: 06:45 I've been speaking with the voice of San Diego reporter Maya, Sri Krishnan, and Maya. Thank you very much. Speaker 2: 06:50 Well, thank you again for having me. Speaker 3: 06:55 [inaudible].

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Detainees at the Otay Mesa Detention Center allege serious medical conditions are being ignored or treated insufficiently, according to court documents and other public records obtained by Voice of San Diego. Lawyers say they’re having a harder time lately securing parole for detainees with serious medical conditions.
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