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Seneca County Jail isn’t meeting basic needs of ICE detainees

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Seneca County Jail

Letter to the Editor by Gabino Medina

When I heard Sheriff Fred Stevens wanted to put even more people like me in his jail, to get more money from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), my anxiety flared.

I spent nine months in the Seneca County Jail, until I was deported. Sheriff Stevens was supposed to provide appropriate medical care while they detained me—it’s spelled out in his contract with ICE—but did not. Because of that, my life was put at risk multiple times.

I suffer from several chronic health conditions—intestinal problems, hypertension, dental issues, and post-traumatic stress—all of which were going untreated in immigration jail. As a county jail, Seneca simply doesn’t have the proper medical department to care for people like me who are held in prolonged, indefinite detention.

People detained by ICE aren’t serving time for criminal offenses. We are waiting for our court cases to conclude in civil Immigration court. And counties get paid with federal tax dollars to keep us in jail. It’s a business arrangement that encourages local jails to cut corners to maximize profits.

Civil immigration cases can take months or years to resolve; there’s no defined time period. All the time we’re locked away from our jobs, homes, families, and doctors. It’s already hard enough to deal with the uncertainty, but the fact that county jails aren’t equipped to meet our basic human needs makes it deadly.

I asked to get my COVID booster shot, but never got it. I had a painful, infected abscess on my tooth for a long time and they never took me to a dentist. I had excruciating and life-threatening intestinal problems, and they kept dismissing them. My mental health worsened and I was not allowed to see a psychologist. I experienced headaches, blurred vision, and high blood pressure due to untreated hypertension, and they refused to give me medication.

I’ll never forget how they treated other people with mental illness. They put three ladies and four men in solitary confinement for days and sometimes weeks. The men were restrained to a “punishment chair” for hours, sometimes days. They would be screaming for help, to no avail. To this day, I cannot get their screams out of my head.

In addition to violating its medical obligations to me and others, Seneca County Jail also ignored legal requirements to pay detainees for working inside the jail; maintain an adequate law library; and house us separately from county inmates. Other immigrants and I were repeatedly denied access to our lawyers while in Seneca, making it a lot harder to prepare for and potentially win our cases.

Seneca is required to follow ICE’s National Detention Standards, which cover medical care, food quality, hygiene, access to legal counsel, and other basics. When the jail kept ignoring my medical issues, and making it hard for me to speak with my lawyer, I turned to civil rights organizations like the ACLU National Prison Project and Freedom For Immigrants to fight for these rights.

I filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Office, ICE, and the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Other men detained with me filed a second complaint, and a third person filed one about similar issues this year. The only response we got from ICE, so far, was deportation.

The federal Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties hasn’t responded yet, but Sheriff Stevens did. He sent a defensive email to advocates calling me and the others liars. He claimed that things have gotten better at the facility, but I find that hard to believe when I have a friend there who coughs up blood every day.

For years, immigrants and activists across Ohio, the Midwest, and the nation have demanded county jails end their for-profit contracts with ICE. Many jails have not renewed their ICE contracts, like Butler County. It’s expensive to follow through on those basic obligations.

Still, counties have made money off of the backs of civil ICE detainees like me for years. They’ve gotten away with ignoring our medical needs and other shortcuts to maximize their profits.

But someone is actually paying for it. You, the U.S. taxpayer, are funding this whole scheme. This year, Congress provided $1.4 billion to ICE to spend on immigrant detention; and we immigrants are paying for it too—not only through taxes, but also with long-term health consequences and lifetime separation from our families.

Had I been able to take care of my mental and physical health and communicate with my attorney to finish preparing my case while I was at Seneca, I might still be in the United States—my home—today.

After living in the U.S. for decades, Gabino Medina was deported to Mexico.

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