Over 120 people filed medical grievances over a two-year period at the Hudson County jail where this past spring Carlos Mejia-Bonilla, an undocumented immigrant, was largely ignored by staff and later died from “internal bleeding and hemorrhagic shock,” becoming the tenth immigrant to die while in ICE custody this fiscal year:
Two months after his arrest for being in the U.S. illegally, the 44-year-old immigrant from El Salvador was rushed to the hospital. His longtime girlfriend and his brother were kept in the hallway, barred from his room because he was in federal custody.
Overwhelmed with frustration and concern, his brother, Rey Bonilla, yelled at immigration officers.
“If you want to arrest me, arrest me then,” he said.
They never were allowed in to see the ailing man.
In the time since the county began to investigate, though, no upper management officials were held accountable. The county revoked the security clearances of two members of the medical staff but pursued no charges for the blatant “errors” the jail has admitted led to his death. Advocates and detainees are crying foul about what steps the jail has truly taken—where up to 525 immigrant detainees can be detained on a given day—because problems around the treatment of immigrant detainees nevertheless “persist”:
Two immigrants currently held at the jail — one who needs a biopsy and another with a painful leg condition — said they have not received the treatment they need even though they have made repeated requests.
Gerardo Perdomo said he has been waiting for that biopsy for seven months. "It would be terrible if I have cancer and I'm not getting treatment,’’ Perdomo said in a telephone interview from the jail.
Among those filed complaints in the past was an HIV-positive man who was told his discomfort was hemorrhoids. When he finally lodged enough complaints to be taken to a hospital, he was diagnosed with colon cancer:
[A] complaint filed with federal authorities last May noted that 121 detainees reported medical grievances at the jail between January 2014 and March 2016.
Those grievances included a detainee who was denied surgery for a broken leg and another who was so short of breath and weak from a failing pacemaker that when he was brought from the jail to court for an appearance, a judge called 911.
A third complaint involved a detainee from the Dominican Republic who said a mistake with his medication caused him to bleed internally — and it was days before he was taken to a hospital, where doctors found he had developed a blood clot near his heart. Nelson Fernandez remembers calling his family from the jail to tell them he was extremely ill.
"I even told my daughter, 'Look, if I die, you know they are responsible. They don’t want to treat me; they don’t want to take me to the hospital,' ” Fernandez told The Record.
“They wait until something happens,” said Chia-Chia Wang, an organizer with American Friends Service Committee’s Immigrant Rights Program, about the medical care at the facility. At the same jail, but in a different area from where immigrants are detained, it was too late for another woman:
Six weeks after Mejia-Bonilla's death, another inmate died — this time a 48-year-old woman housed in the regular division of the facility. Jennifer Towle died in the jail’s infirmary while serving a jail term for driving while intoxicated, said county spokesman James Kennelly.
Spurred by the two deaths, [Hudson County Executive Thomas] DeGise signed an executive order on July 17 to activate a medical review panel, which will look for a “permanent medical monitor” to regularly review the practices of CFG. “Likely an M.D. whose job will be to review day to day, day in and day out, the medical care,’’ Kennelly said.
But clearly, that won’t be enough. The jail’s record is dismal:
Last year, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement and First Friends of New Jersey and New York filed a complaint of medical neglect at the jail on behalf of 61 detainees. The complaint went to ICE, the Department of Homeland Security, the Hudson County Board of Freeholders and the correctional facility. It noted that of the 121 people who had filed medical grievances over a two-year period, the jail took corrective action in fewer than 3 percent of those cases.