A new report from a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee offers sharp criticism of how staff at the Aurora ICE facility handled the medical care of Kamyar Samimi, a detainee who died in December 2017 after fifteen days in detention.
"The Committee obtained internal documents showing that Mr. Samimi’s death resulted from egregious violations of medical standards and that these violations were part of systemic issues at the Aurora facility," the report states.
Penned by the House Committee on Oversight Reform's Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, on which Democrats are the majority, the report delves into various deaths in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody and other instances of deficient medical care. Regarding Samimi's death and medical care in general at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, the report includes analysis from a medical expert report included with a 2018 Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties investigation, an ICE detainee death assessment, and internal audits by GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the facility.
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"The magnitude of failures to care for [Samimi] is only surpassed by the number of such failures," the medical expert report stated, with the medical expert adding that "the complete lack of medical leadership, supervision and care that [Samimi] was exposed to is simply astonishing and stands out as one of the most egregious failures to provide optimal care in my experience."
ICE's own review of Samimi's death showed that staff at the Aurora facility made error after error in the two weeks leading up to his passing. Not only did staffers fail to comply with ICE medical standards in a dozen instances, but they watched — and did not effectively intervene — as Samimi, a longtime permanent resident of the U.S. who had a June 2005 conviction for cocaine possession, deteriorated from opioid withdrawal.
Samimi, a 64-year-old Iranian national and daily methadone user since 1991, died at a nearby emergency room after he passed out and became unresponsive; his heart stopped beating.
An autopsy failed to determine the exact cause of Samimi's death, but it did suggest emphysema and gastrointestinal bleeding as contributing factors. The coroner also reported that he couldn't "rule out methadone withdrawal as the cause of death," but noted that deaths due to methadone withdrawal are rare.
"It truly appears that this system failed at every aspect of care possible beginning from using the correct withdrawal assessment tool to performing basic nursing functions including the ability to recognize medical emergency situations to an astonishing lack of physician supervision, leadership and accountability," the expert concluded.
The House subcommittee also obtained a GEO Group audit of the Aurora ICE facility from June 2018 that recorded 86 deficiencies, including 46 related to health services.
"The audit found that none of the patients that needed to be treated for withdrawal symptoms were treated properly, which was a repeat finding from a 2017 audit," the subcommittee report states.
A 2019 GEO Group audit of the facility "found that many of those serious issues with the facility remained," the report notes. In fact, the audit "determined that many deficiencies that had been categorized in the previous audit as a 'serious life safety' issue or one that 'indicates the existence of a system failure' were not resolved."
In particular, "half of the authorized medical positions remained unfilled," and "detainees with chronic conditions were not provided timely medical care and were not treated in accordance with medical guidelines."
That 2018 Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties investigation also found that one detainee at the Aurora facility had tested positive for HIV, "but was not informed of the diagnosis."
The subcommittee report concludes by stating that it "found that immigrants in detention centers operated by for-profit contractors are facing negative health outcomes and even death as a result of inadequate medical care, poor conditions, understaffing, and delayed emergency care."
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GEO Group, which is facing a wrongful-death lawsuit from the Samimi family, responded to the report with this statement from corporate spokesman Christopher Ferreira: “We strongly reject these baseless allegations, which are part of another politically driven report that ignores more than three decades of providing high-quality services to those in our care. The Aurora ICE processing center provides safe and humane residential care and high quality 24/7 medical services. For more than thirty years, we have provided high-quality services to the federal government under both Democrat andmRepublican administrations and we have always complied with the Performance-Based National Detention Standards, which were first established under President Barack Obama’s administration. Furthermore, the Center is highly rated by independent accreditation entities, including the American Correctional Association and the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is also pushing back against the report, calling into question the agendas of Democratic lawmakers who make up the majority of the subcommittee.
“ICE is fully committed to the health and safety of those in our care and will review the committee’s report," Stacey Daniels, ICE's director of public affairs, responds in a statement. "However, it is clear this one-sided review of our facilities was done to tarnish our agency’s reputation, as opposed to actually reviewing the care detainees receive while in our custody. Improvements to civil detention are based on concrete recommendations from the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) and an aggressive inspections program, which includes formal facility inspections, independent third-party compliance reviews, daily on-site compliance reviews and targeted site visits. The agency also maintains a toll-free service that provides a direct channel for detainees, their attorneys and other stakeholders to communicate with ICE about detainee concerns or conditions of confinement."
Update: This story was updated on September 28 to include the GEO Group statement.