Illegal Aliens Find Detention in U.S. May Be Good for Their Health

By Susan Jones | April 6, 2012 | 9:18am EDT

The Karnes County Civil Detention Center near San Antonio, Texas, is more like a recreational facility for illegal immigrants than a prison, Republicans complain. (AP Photo)

( - The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency is touting the "quality" medical care it provides for 15,000 illegal aliens who are housed at 21 detention facilities throughout the nation.

"A detainee's health care begins the moment they walk through the facility's doors," said Dr. Jon Krohmer, assistant director for ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC). "Within the first 12 hours of their admission, all detainees undergo a preliminary health screening, which includes an evaluation of the individual's medical, dental and mental health status; and within the next 14 days, a more detailed physical examination takes place."

Because so many detainees haven't had access to health care in the past, it's "not unusual" for serious health problems to be diagnosed at these screenings: "We're finding out about health issues that even they didn't even know about and in most cases are able to begin treatment," Kromer said.

ICE says the medical care it gives to illegal aliens "not only lasts during the individual's period of detention, but also throughout their removal to their country of origin." And before any detainee boards a plane to be removed from the United States, they must first undergo an evaluation to make sure they are fit to fly, ICE said in an April 3 news release.

The ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) -- which falls under the ICE's Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations -- consists of more than 900 U.S. Public Health Service commissioned officers, federal civil servants and contract support staff.

In addition to providing care at 21 IHSC-designated facilities throughout the nation, IHSC oversees the medical care provided to an additional 17,000 detainees at non-IHSC staffed detention facilities.

When necessary, the ICE Health Service Corps authorizes and pays for off-site specialty and emergency care, consultations and case management.

IHSC says it is continually upgrading the quality of the medical services its delivers.

As reported last week, some congressional Republicans are complaining about the Obama administration's new detention standards for illegal aliens rounded up in this country.

“Under this administration, detention looks more like recess,” House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) told a recent oversight hearing mockingly entitled “Holiday on ICE.”

“While funds for American students’ physical education classes are being cut, the new detention standards expand recreation for illegal immigrants,” Smith said in his opening statement. “For instance, illegal and criminal immigrants in ICE custody will have options such as soccer, volleyball and basketball.  It would be nice if all American students got those options.”

Smith said federal law enforcement agents should not act be acting as concierges, and he criticized the Obama administration for putting the interests of illegal immigrants ahead of those of American taxpayers.

The new ICE detention standards are intended to improve medical and mental health services, as noted above; increase access to legal services and religious opportunities; improve communication with detainees who don’t speak English; improve the process for reporting and responding to complaints; and increase recreation and visitation.

The $30-million Karnes County Civil Detention Center in Texas is the first minimum-security facility built in compliance with the new detention standards.

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