ICE, prison targeted immigrants seeking medical care, complaint says
Suspicious timing of transfers for the five migrants have led legal and advocacy organizations to believe staff decisions have been retaliatory. (Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
Staff at two federal immigration detention facilities in Nevada have engaged in retaliatory transfers and medical abuse, including refusing to treat “a severe case of trench foot” for one migrant detainee, a new federal civil rights complaint alleges.
The complaint filed last week claims five migrants detained at the Nye County Jail and Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump faced a pattern of retaliatory transfers for asking for treatment of unaddressed medical needs — a violation of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act — according to the coalition of legal and advocacy organizations who filed the complaint.
Federal immigration officials have a constitutional obligation to provide adequate medical care to all individuals in their custody.
“Every day, when I get my medications, I ask the nurse if there is any update regarding the critical health care that I’ve been requesting for years. Every day, they just tell me, ‘No,’” said Erik Mercado, who suffers from severe medical conditions, in a statement. “An ICE official here has already told me that ‘they won’t be able to treat me in Nevada.’ They are basically just waiting and hoping that they can eventually deport me so that they do not have to spend money on my health care.”
The complaint— submitted to multiple Department of Homeland Security oversight agencies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field offices — alleges all five migrants were transferred to Nevada from the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego late last year as retaliation for engaging in self-advocacy for basic medical care and improved conditions.
All five detainees say the medical negligence they experienced in California has continued in Nevada, a direct violation of federal detention standards, according to the complaint.
Mercado, who remains in ICE detention at Nye County Jail, said he experienced retaliation from ICE employees and detention facility staff on multiple occasions, including being transferred to another California facility without explanation after filing a complaint about medical neglect and COVID-19 negligence, according to the complaint.
After Mercado Arechiga co-authored an op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune about inhumane conditions migrants faced in detention facilities he was again transferred — this time to Nevada despite his attorney being based in Southern California.
Under ICE detention standards, transfers can be “disciplinary,” but should not be “retaliatory.” Prohibited actions like “insolence toward a staff member” or “participating in an unauthorized meeting or gathering” may result in a disciplinary transfer. But advocates say acts as mundane as talking to other detainees about unsafe conditions could be labeled as “participating in an unauthorized meeting” by disgruntled staff as retaliation.
Suspicious timing of transfers for the five migrants have led legal and advocacy organizations to believe staff decisions have been retaliatory, a suspicion they say is strengthened by a new nationwide report on retaliatory transfers released by Freedom for Immigrants.
“The retaliatory transfers and dire medical neglect documented in this complaint are emblematic of the abuse occurring across the immigration detention system,” said Amanda Díaz, senior national hotline manager with Freedom for Immigrants. “It’s clear that ICE used transfers to punish these individuals for seeking the medical care they so desperately need, isolating them from their families, doctors and support networks in the process.”
Lewis Abdul Kalim Sibomana, another individual named in the complaint, is currently detained by ICE at Nevada Southern Detention Center which is run by private prison company CoreCivic. In the complaint Sibomana claims he was transferred from Otay Mesa to Nevada after he filed multiple requests for surgery to remove a painful metal support plate in his leg. Sibomana also alleges he was placed in solitary confinement and blocked from outside communication as retaliation after filing a complaint.
“ICE and CoreCivic should provide us with adequate medical treatment, as it is our constitutional right,” Sibomana said in a statement. “They should not be ignoring our medical needs in their efforts to punish us.”
The groups that filed the complaint include Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center, Detention Resistance, Faithful Friends – Amigos Fieles, Freedom for Immigrants, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, SOLACE (Souls Offering Loving And Compassionate Ears), and the UNLV Immigration Clinic.
Given what they see as ongoing medical neglect and retaliation against migrant detainees at Nye County Jail and Nevada Southern Detention Center, advocates included a number of demands in their complaint.
Advocates demanded three of the migrant detainees facing serious medical conditions receive proper medical care and be considered for immediate medical release. Advocates also demanded federal agencies responsible for investigating ICE open an investigation into their claims of retaliatory transfers, verbal abuse, and medical negligence. Additionally, the complaint included a demand for the termination of ICE detention contracts at Otay Mesa, Nevada Southern, and Nye County due to inhumane treatment.
Representatives for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond to requests for comment.
“Among the most disturbing aspects of this mass transfer from California to Nevada is that it directly retaliated against individuals who were advocating for themselves and others in ICE detention and calling on officials to uphold the rights of people in this cruel system of injustice,” said Deborah Boehm, advocate with Faithful Friends – Amigos Fieles and a professor of Anthropology and Gender, Race, and Identity at the University of Nevada, Reno. “As Nevadans, we should all be concerned about the brutality of U.S. immigration detention being carried out in our home state and across the country, and commit to taking all possible actions to end it.”
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