ICE sued over “chronic, deplorable conditions” in Jefferson County

Por en 02/7/13 11:51am
An anti-deportation protest in Chicago during Obama's inauguration (Chicago Tribune)

More than half a dozen immigrants have filed a federal lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Jefferson County over what they call “chronic, deplorable conditions” at a local facility.

“All but one member of the facility’s medical staff” resigned or tendered their resignation this past November, including the jail’s only doctor. That led ICE to evacuate “dozens” of immigrants from the facility, according to the complaint.

ICE contracts out custody of immigrants to the Jefferson County Justice Center in Mount Vernon, Illinois. It is expected that the immigrants will return to Jefferson County in March 2013, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit, filed by Digno Padron, Raul Valdez Banuelos, Ahmed Yusuf, Miguel Rosiles, Edison Rios Benavides, Otoniel Rincon Velasquez, and Hector Ramirez Pichado, claims that the federal government violated federal law in housing immigrants there at all.

“Defendants have been in violation of federal law regarding the conditions of confinement from the moment that JCJC housed its first immigrant detainee in April 2009,” the complaint alleges. “ICE entered into a contract with Jefferson County notwithstanding internal reports that found JCJC to be repeatedly ‘deficient. Further, JCJC does not adhere to and is not inspected under the 2011 PBNDS, in violation of the terms of the ICE contract with Jefferson County and ICE policy.”

Immigrants housed at the facility were “subjected to shocking conditions,” the complaint alleges, including “unsanitary, mold-encrusted showers and restrooms; brown, putrid drinking water; inadequate facility ventilation; soiled and tattered prison uniforms; dangerously scarce medical care, and a woeful lack of ICE oversight of JCJC.”

Even worse, the complaint alleges, the Jefferson County Justice Center “became a breeding ground for serious communicable diseases” including tuberculosis and various skin funguses.

All of the immigrants suing were given inadequate medical care, according to the complaint.

One of the immigrants, Padron, contracted Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus after just ten days at the facility this past November.

Pichado was “erroneously diagnosed with TB and kept in solitary confinement for approximately one week.”

Last year, JeffersonCounty made more than $2 million from the contract, according to The Southern Illinoisan.

Doctors at the clinic were responsible for 100 to 120 inmates at the facility, according to the complaint, but the facility was dramatically understaffed.

The doctor and his physician’s assistant “typically worked less than 10 hours a month,” the complaint said. At the start of 2012, there were 12 part-time nurses working at the facility, but only four by June. There were only two part-time nurses left in October, and only one in December.

Factoring in the daily inmate population, they were responsible for nearly 250 individuals, according to the complaint.

The immigrants want a federal court to determine whether the contract should be nullified, whether ICE violated federal law, whether county and federal officials conspired to violate federal law by housing immigrants there, and whether the immigrants’ constitutional rights were violated.

Government officials in Illinois have worked very hard to prove that the state is friendly toward immigrants. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has raised money for undocumented students. Governor Pat Quinn just signed a bill allowing illegal immigrants to have driver’s licenses.

But if even a quarter of the allegations here are true, fair and accurate representations of what life is like for the immigrants (and other inmates) at the Jefferson County Justice Center, there’s a lot of work to do.

Please click here to read the  full complaint and exhibits in Padron et al. v. ICE et al.