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13.8.07

Letting Detainees Die

A number of stories have come out recently about people dying in US immigration detention due to a lack of adequate medical attention. The most heart-wrenching is the case of Victoria Arellano:

The handful of prescription drugs Victor[ia] Arellano* took each morning kept h[er] alive.

But Arellano, in the throes of full-blown AIDS, was denied that medicine when immigration officials locked h[er] up at the San Pedro detention center, other detainees said.

Two months later Arellano, 23, died in custody - too weak to walk to the bathroom alone, but shackled to a hospital bed.

... Arellano's care fell to fellow detainees, who soaked their bath towels in water to cool her fever and used a cardboard box as a makeshift trash can to gather her vomit.

"We all asked the guards for help, to take Victoria to the infirmary but no one did anything," said Oscar Santander, a fellow detainee.


I'm impressed by the other detainees, who saw Arellano as a person and rallied to help her, while the authorities looked the other way until it was too late. The response of the government spokeswoman only makes the moral gulf more clear. The spokeswoman lists off the number of dollars spent on immigrant health care and the number of inmates treated. But those numbers don't tell us anything. What matters is the adequacy of the care recieved. The fact that numerous people are dying easily preventable deaths (both Arellano and Edmar Alves Araujo would have been fine if they had been allowed to stay on their current drugs -- hardly incidents demanding complex and expensive medical attention) demonstrates that the care is not adequate. It's unfortunate that the people who made these decisions can only be sued (probably unsuccessfully) for wrongful death, rather than charged with manslaughter.

*The article does this weird thing where it refers to Arellano as "he" up until the paragraph that mentions she's transgender, and then after that uses "she."

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