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Report assails care of detainees

December 08, 2007|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security provides inadequate care and treatment of illegal immigrant detainees with HIV/AIDS, according to a new survey by a civil rights group that was prompted by the July death of a transgender inmate at a San Pedro facility.

Human Rights Watch issued a 71-page report Friday to encourage the government to improve its screening and ongoing treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS at government or privately contracted facilities that house about 30,000 illegal immigrants daily.

"We found the medical care in three types of facilities, representing nine states, was delayed, interrupted or inconsistent," said Megan McLemore, author of the report.

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency had not fully reviewed the survey but generally disagreed with its findings.

"Ensuring the welfare and safety of those in our custody is one of our top priorities," Kice said.

For the study, McLemore interviewed current and former detainees, and Homeland Security and detention facility officials in California, Alabama, New Jersey, Virginia and several other states.

Among the findings:

* Failure to deliver complete anti-retroviral regimens in a consistent manner, creating the risk of drug resistance.

* Failure to prescribe prophylactic medications to prevent opportunistic infections.

* Failure to ensure continuity of care as detainees are transferred between facilities.

The most egregious case, McLemore said, was of Victor Arellano, a 23-year-old transgender inmate held at the San Pedro facility.

Arellano, who had AIDS, went by the name Victoria.

The report says Arellano was denied treatment and became gravely ill.

Despite fellow detainees' pleading on her behalf, Arellano was left suffering in her bunk as her condition worsened, McLemore said.

Arellano died July 20.

Two other unrelated deaths of detainees earlier this year triggered an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General into the quality of medical care at federal detention centers.

Privacy laws prevent ICE officials from discussing details of medical treatment. But Kice said the agency spent nearly $100 million in the last year for detainee healthcare.

McLemore recommended that the agency upgrade its standards for HIV/AIDS treatment.

The Human Rights Watch report can be viewed at www.hrw.org/reports/2007/us1207/.

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greg.griggs@latimes.com

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