“It is a complete disregard for their well-being.”: ICE’s Unsafe Release Practices Abandon People with Disabilities and Mental Illnesses on the Street

New York, NY – On Wednesday, the Vera Institute of Justice released a narrative report highlighting ICE’s deadly practice of unsafely releasing people with serious medical and mental health conditions from detention without care.

The report – available in English and Spanish with audio and quotes from legal service providers of people directly impacted by ICE’s unsafe release practices – demonstrates that there is no consistent policy for the release of people who the government has deemed unable to advocate for themselves from immigration detention due to a serious mental health condition.

ICE’s practice of unsafely releasing people with medical and mental health conditions from detention has endangered immigrants for years, including those who have legal representation through the Vera-run National Qualified Representation Program (NQRP). Unsafe releases are especially cruel for NQRP clients, given that they have been determined by the government to be unable to represent themselves, and are often incapable of advocating for their own needs.

NQRP attorneys report that ICE’s unsafe releases of their medically vulnerable clients often follow medical neglect in detention, compounding the harm already done to them. Despite their obvious health needs and medical complications, many people were literally abandoned on the street. Even when ICE does alert attorneys of their clients’ upcoming releases, it is often with little notice. This presents logistical problems, as many detention facilities are several hours away from population centers.

Advocates for detained people who are medically vulnerable or live with mental disabilities stress that detention should not be the default. People with complex needs are safer when they are allowed to wait for immigration court proceedings while living in their homes in the community, rather than held in civil detention, where necessary and reasonable accommodations are rarely made for them.

Attorneys and advocates say that certain minimum necessary requirements for safe release should apply to all detained people, but particularly people who are made vulnerable by health conditions and disabilities.