Monday, August 13, 2007

Death in Detention

Via Kaiser Network:

A 23-year-old HIV-positive person, Victor Arrelano, recently died while in custody at an immigration detention center in San Pedro, Calif., the Los Angeles Times reports. Arrelano's family plans to file a wrongful death suit against the U.S. government that claims Arrelano was denied vital medical treatment while in custody. According to the Times, the case highlights an "inadequate, even dangerous, medical system for the nearly 30,000 undocumented immigrants in custody nationwide."

Attorneys for Arrelano's family say that while in custody, Arrelano's condition deteriorated to the point that fellow detainees urged staff to provide medical care. Roman Silberfeld, the family's attorney, said that 70 detainees signed a petition urging that Arrelano receive medical attention. When Arrelano's condition became critical, he was transferred to a San Pedro hospital and died several days later, according to the Times. Lorri Jean -- chief executive of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, which provided treatment to Arrelano two years ago -- said she has "no doubt" Arrelano died because he was "denied the medications that [he] needed to stay alive." Jean said that she and her staff on Monday will discuss Arrelano's death and their concerns about treatment at the detention center with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the Times reports.

Immigration and health services officials on Friday defended the quality of medical care provided at dozens of facilities nationwide. They would not discuss individual cases because of privacy concerns, the Times reports.

This should come as shocking news to anyone who reads it. There is no standard by which human rights are judged in which it is acceptable to deny a detainee - someone who is quite obviously incapable of accessing their own medical care - needed assistance. Of course, I doubt an unadulterated sentiment of outrage or even sympathy for the victim will be demonstrated by Americans, since the victim, being an HIV positive man and an illegal immigrant, happens to be in not one but two categories of people who are vilified, feared and marginalized by conservative Americans.

Whether or not this country is ready to take up responsibilities to its immigrant populations, there should be absolutely no question that when we detain someone we become accountable for their health care. Only the most extreme of nativists would propose the death penalty for violating immigration laws. And yet that is essentially what Arrelano received.

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