New Jersey immigration detainees protest medical neglect

In a March 2 petition addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Michael Mukasey, 93 immigration detainees at Middlesex County jail in New Jersey complained about inadequate medical treatment for two fellow detainees, including a man named Arturo Alvarez who died earlier that same day. According to authorities the Cuban detainee died on March 2 at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick after suffering a heart attack at the jail on Feb. 29. In the letter, titled “Re: Crime Against Humanity,” the detainees said Alvarez asked for help and was given Tylenol and his own medication, “but no doctor was available to see him.” The letter states that Alvarez “passed away in this jail” and was not sent to the hospital. The petition also charges that a detainee named Cemar Koc complained of pain to a first shift duty officer, got no help, and after complaining to a second-shift officer lost consciousness. (Home News Tribune, March 15; copy of petition made available by New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee)

ICE spokesperson Michael Gilhooly denied the allegation of medical neglect. Gilhooly said the dead man’s real name was Arturo Suarez-Almenares, and he was 72 years old. “When it became apparent that the individual was ill, he received proper medical care,” Gilhooly said. “We take the health and welfare of our people very seriously.” As with the deaths of all detainees, the case has been referred to the bureau’s internal affairs office, said Mark Vogler, assistant field office director for the ICE detention and removal office in Newark.

Officials with knowledge of the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release details of Suarez-Almenares said he arrived from Cuba in 1980, the year of the Mariel boatlift when 125,000 Cubans came to the US. He later reportedly spent five separate stints in state prison on drug distribution charges. He was sent to prison last in April 2007, released to immigration officials in October and taken to Middlesex County jail, Gilhooly said.

Cuban nationals generally cannot be repatriated because the Cuban government does not accept their return. Instead they are kept in a permanent probation-like program that requires them to maintain contact with immigration authorities. Gilhooly said Suarez-Almenares was about to be released when he fell ill.

Les Paschall, CEO of CFG Health Systems, a limited liability corporation that runs medical and mental-health services at the Middlesex County jail, declined comment on the death of Suarez-Almenares, citing lawyer’s advice and security rules. (Home News Tribune, March 15)

From Immigration News Briefs, March 29

See our last post on the politics of immigration.