Death in Detention

Cruelty Is Not a Family Value
From photo by Fibonacci Blue, published under Creative Commons license.

Cipriano Chavez-Alvarez was 61 years old, with lymphoma, kidney disease, hypertension, and diabetes. A federal judge ordered him released from the prison where he had served 27 years of a life sentence for selling cocaine. The judge said he was in danger of serious injury or death if he remained in prison, because of the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19. The judge said he could be deported or could remain in the United States on up to 10 years of supervised release.

When Cipriano was released on July 31, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained him immediately. ICE sent him to the notorious Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, where detainee and whistleblower complaints describe lack of sanitation and failure to protect against COVID infections or to report those infections. Then ICE transferred him to Stewart Detention Center, where 339 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, including two deaths.

Cipriano Chavez-Alvarez contracted COVID-19 and died on Monday, September 21. He was the seventh ICE detainee to die of COVID-19 and the twentieth person to die in ICE detention this year, the highest number since 2005.

Most ICE detainees are held in private, for-profit detention centers, like the Irwin and Stewart detention centers. Some are held in county jails, paid by ICE to hold immigration detainees.

The private, for-profit centers routinely fail at medical care, sanitation, and nutrition. They routinely put detainees who complain about conditions into solitary confinement as punishment for filing complaints. They also routinely coerce detainees to do unpaid or minimally paid work.

Multiple internal whistleblower complaints and investigations have verified abuses including:

  • an 8-year-old boy who had to have part of his forehead removed due to shoddy medical “treatment;”
  • preventable deaths
  • inadequate to nonexistent mental health treatment for seriously ill detainees;
  • withholding medication.

A Congressional oversight committee has just reported on inadequate medical care, falsified records, and cover-ups in these detention centers.

Medical neglect and mistreatment existed before the pandemic, and have only gotten worse.

Most ICE detainees have not committed crimes. Most are held while awaiting hearings on their immigration petitions or while appealing deportation orders. All are classified as civil, not criminal, detainees.

Current ICE practice is to keep immigrants locked up while they wait for hearings on their immigration petitions. That is neither necessary nor fair. Alternatives to detention include release on bond, supervised release, release to family members, and electronic monitoring after release. All of these cost far less than detention. And they are effective.

“As of August 2019, roughly 100,000 people were enrolled on an ATD [Alternative to Detention] at any given time. According to DHS, ATDs cost an average of $4.04 per day and have been shown to work with over 95 percent of individuals to ensure appearance for their final court hearings.”

There’s a simple solution to the appalling conditions of mistreatment and medical neglect: let the detainees go.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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