In last week's CityBeat, we reported on attorney Ann Menasche's attempts to talk to mentally ill immigration detainees who were being held at Alvarado Parkway Institute (API) in La Mesa, incommunicado and shackled to their beds. As a representative of Disability Rights California, Menasche should be able to walk into any psychiatric facility to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials were giving her the runaround, she said.
On Monday, May 18, after learning that one detainee she'd been in contact with had been deported, Menasche told hospital officials that she'd be conducting an inspection on Wednesday. Because CityBeat went to print Tuesday night, our story didn't mention whether Menasche was allowed access to the facility.
Menasche was allowed in—though, by Wednesday morning, there was only one detainee still at the hospital. That detainee told her that three others had been transferred out the day before. Patrick Zeimer, the hospital's CEO, told her that he'd no longer be admitting ICE detainees—which ICE spokesperson Lauren Mack later confirmed. It's not clear, though, where detainees with serious mental-health problems will be sent when they can't be cared for at federal detention facilities.
Menasche said she was able to speak with the one remaining detainee. Because of privacy restrictions, she couldn't give CityBeat the detainee's name, gender, age or nationality. She could say only that the person was brought to the U.S. as an infant by refugee parents. Though a legal U.S. resident, the detainee was being threatened with deportation after serving a jail sentence for drug and theft charges.
“The detainee is quite articulate and angry about the conditions at API and begged me to get in touch with family since they denied a request for a phone call,” Menasche said in an e-mail. (Family members aren't informed when a detainee is transferred to a psychiatric facility.)
Menasche said that both of the detainee's ankles were shackled—officials from both ICE and API told her previously that detainees had only one leg shackled to their bed. Menasche was able to get some photos, though she was initially asked to promise that she wouldn't turn the pictures over to the press.
Since last year, attorneys have been looking into how detainees are being treated at API and other Southern California psychiatric hospitals. Under state law, there's a process that must be followed before a person can be confined to a psychiatric facility, and that's not happening with ICE detainees, attorney Greg Pleasants explained.
Menasche said she plans to send letters to all San Diego County psychiatric facilities “to alert them that if they accept ICE detainees, they should comply with patients' rights.”
Mack said ICE is looking into policies pertaining to mentally ill detainees as part of a larger review of conditions at federal detention centers.