Advocates decry another immigration death at Arizona facility

Posted at 4:08 PM, Nov 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-30 18:08:01-05
The weekend death of a Guatemalan woman who became ill at a detention center in Arizona with the most in-custody immigrant deaths in the U.S. is another example of inadequate care and poor practices at the privately run site, advocates for immigrants said this week.
The 36-year-old woman died at a hospital near the Eloy Detention Center, which is among the largest immigrant lockups in the country and currently has 1,473 detainees, just shy of its capacity of 1,500.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that Raquel Calderon de Hildago died Sunday after suffering a series of seizures. It was the third in-custody death for the immigration agency nationwide since October 1.
Fifteen migrants have died at the Eloy Detention Center since 2004, ICE data shows. This summer, the center became the epicenter of a large measles outbreak after some facility workers refused to get vaccinated.
"For us it's disappointing because this death, like the others, could have been prevented. But unfortunately this administration and (the prison operator) are not held accountable and so we see again someone's life being lost," said Carlos Garcia, the executive director of Puente Arizona, an advocacy group for immigrants.
The jail about 60 miles south of Phoenix has been a frequent target of immigration rights activists like Puente, which organized a concert and protest outside the facility earlier this year featuring musicians John Legend and Juanes, who spoke about mistreatment of migrants during their set.
The death also comes as the Obama administration is more heavily scrutinizing private prisons at a time when an influx of migrants from Haiti and Central America has nearly maxed out federal immigration resources.
The Department of Homeland Security announced in August it was seeking review of private prison operators after the administration said it was phasing out use of contractors for federal prisons. A Department of Homeland Security committee is expected to announce a recommendation on Thursday.
President-elect Donald Trump has not disclosed his plans for the use of private companies at immigration facilities but is seen as a strong industry backer. The stock price of the company that runs the Eloy facility, CoreCivic, shot up more than 40 percent the day after Trump was elected.
Although CoreCivic is in charge of the Eloy Detention Center, company spokesman Jonathan Burns says ICE provides the center's medical care. CoreCivic recently changed its name from Corrections Corp. of America, or CCA.
ICE spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe in a statement on Wednesday defended the agency's medical care at the center, saying a physician is on duty at the center at all times.
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement remains committed to providing a safe and humane environment for all those in its custody, including affording detainees access to necessary and appropriate health care," she said. "ICE takes the death of any individual that occurs in the agency's custody very seriously."
But advocates for immigrants point to a report compiled earlier this year by a coalition of advocacy organizations that found ICE provided inadequate medical care and at times delayed calling 911 when detainees became sick.
The report focused on eight deaths in which the ICE Office of Detention Oversight found that a contributing cause of death was non-compliance with medical standards.
It highlighted Pablo Gracida-Conte, a 54-year-old Mexican who died of a heart ailment in October 2011 in a Tucson, Arizona, hospital after being transferred from the Eloy Detention Center.
The Office of Detention Oversight found that medical staff took too long to call 911 after Gracida-Conte was found experiencing chest pains and other symptoms and that staff did not meet his health care needs in a "timely and efficient manner."
Advocates also said that staff did not try to work with an interpreter to communicate with Gracida-Conte, who spoke an indigenous language and had complained of symptoms for weeks.
"This was identified as a problem in three deaths and yet as late as 2015 there's no indication that it's been fixed," report contributor ACLU attorney Carl Takei said.