ICE Under Fire
Advocates Demand Justice for Victoria Arellano, Transgender HIV-Positive Immigrant Killed by Denial of HIV Care While in Detention
September 14, 2007
Victoria Arellano died in a San Pedro, California detention center in August after ICE officials denied her repeated requests for AIDS medications.
Testimony from other detainees makes it clear that when Arellano entered the facility she was on HIV medication but asymptomatic and visibly healthy. Although Arellano identified and lived as a woman, ICE placed her in a male unit. Six weeks later she was dead. Not only is Arellano's death suspect, but testimonies and media accounts state she was subjected to cruel and degrading treatment by the prison guards while she was dying, including being shackled to her bed.
"This was a case of ICE basically watching someone deteriorate and die in front of their eyes," said Megan McLemore, a researcher at the Human Rights Watch who visited the San Pedro facility after Arellano's death and is compiling a report on treatment of people with HIV/AIDS within ICE facilities.
Arellano's fellow detainees complained that she was ill, demonstrated and chanted to get her treatment, and organized a seventy-person petition that to demand that she be brought to a hospital. Many of the detainees who supported Arellano have now been transferred to other detention centers.
Though prison authorities disregarded the petition from Arellano's fellow detainees, a coalition of more than 70 organizations, ranging from Immigration Equality to the Unitarian Universalist Church to AIDS groups like Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) and Housing Works Tuesday sent demands to the Department of Homeland Security echoing an earlier letter by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights' Watch calling for an investigation surrounding the circumstances of Arellano's death.
Nancy Ordover, Assistant Director for Research and Federal Affairs at GMHC, who helped draft the letter, said those who can have a duty to make sure this situation is remedied and that ICE conditions improve. "Victoria's fellow detainees -- people with everything to lose -- really stood up to be counted. If we don't do the same from our position of relative safety and comfort, then we have not done our job."
Complaints from people in detention centers about inadequate access to medication is sadly common, said Tom Jawitz, an immigration detention attorney at ACLU National Prison Project. "It's not just San Pedro," said Tom Jawitz, an immigration detention attorney at ACLU National Prison Project. "We've received similar complaints about detainees around the country." In some cases the poor treatment is deliberate -- as appears to be the case with Arellano. But other times it is the result of mismanagement in a prison system that has increased the number of detainees by more than three-fold since 1996 when legislation changes led to mandatory detention for certain crimes. On any given day, there are now 29,000 people held in detention centers, a number that is growing.
"You're going to see more of these medical problems as the use of detention expands," Jawitz said. "The number of people strains resources, and design and conception of ICE facilities are based on only detaining a few people."
In addition to calling for an investigation of the circumstances surrounding Arellano's death, the organizational sign-on letter also calls for systematic changes in the treatment of LBGT detainees and a cut in the length of their detention. The letter calls on the Department of Homeland Security to:
To join the effort, contact Nancy Ordover at GMHC by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Homeland Security Department Provides Inadequate Care, Treatment to HIV-Positive People at Immigration Detention Centers, Report Says
Rights Groups Call on Homeland Security Department to Investigate Death of HIV-Positive Person at Immigration Detention Center
This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.