New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (“NYLPI”), a leading civil rights advocacy group for marginalized New Yorkers, and co-counsel Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP (“Simpson Thacher”) filed a federal lawsuit against the United States of America last night after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, discharged a man with serious mental illnesses from immigration detention without planning for the continuity of his life-sustaining mental healthcare. ICE’s failure to provide this most basic aspect of mental healthcare endangered the plaintiff’s life and violated federal law.
Discharge planning—a plan to ensure that medical care does not lapse upon release—is widely regarded as an essential component of medical care. Without discharge planning, people with mental illness face an array of grave consequences when released from immigration detention, like those suffered by the plaintiff in this lawsuit:
Plaintiff Michelet Charles, a green card holder who relies on daily medication to treat bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, was abandoned on the street in Manhattan after winning his immigration hearing. Two weeks after ICE discharged him from immigration detention with no medication, no prescription, and no way of obtaining either, Mr. Charles, who had successfully managed his mental health for years before immigration detention, was admitted to a psychiatric facility where he remained inpatient for almost two months.
Each year, ICE places hundreds of thousands of people in civil detention pending the outcome of immigration hearings to determine their eligibility to remain in the U.S. ICE’s most recent standards, which are incorporated into federal contracts with local jails that house people in immigration detention, require discharge planning, including discharge with a 30-day supply of medication. But as the lawsuit filed last night in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York alleges, ICE fell far short of its obligations and its own standards by denying any mental health discharge planning to the Plaintiff.
“By denying discharge planning to our client, ICE violated longstanding and widely accepted standards of medical care,” said Laura Redman, Director of NYLPI’s Health Justice Program. “ICE confines people to immigration jails and is responsible for providing them medical care, not denying their basic rights.”
Access to mental health discharge planning has emerged as a leading civil rights issue in recent years. In 2003, NYLPI and co-counsel entered into a sweeping settlement agreement with the City of New York after filing a similar lawsuit, Brad H. v. City of New York, challenging the City’s practice of denying mental health discharge planning to people who had received psychiatric services and were then released from City jails.
“The law is clear: If the government chooses to detain people, it must meet their basic medical needs. Broad consensus exists among healthcare professionals that discharge planning is a core component of care for people in detention,” said Antony Gemmell, a Staff Attorney in NYLPI’s Disability Justice Program. “By denying mental health discharge planning to Mr. Charles, the government effectively ensured that his life-sustaining treatment would lapse. We must resist every attempt by the government to act unlawfully towards people in immigration detention.”
“It is our hope that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will take action to rectify this matter immediately,” added Tom Rice, of Simpson Thacher, who leads the firm’s pro bono team partnering with NYLPI. “Detainees with mental illness are among the most vulnerable among us and require all applicable protections under the law.”
This lawsuit is indicative of systemic problems for people seeking medical care while confined by ICE to civil immigration detention in local jails. NYLPI’s work over the last several years has documented the serious, often life-threatening, deficiencies in the medical care provided to people detained in New York City-area immigration detention facilities. To this day, ICE continues to delay or deny vital health care to people in immigration detention continue to be denied care, including by releasing them from detention without discharge planning. To read more about NYLPI’s advocacy on behalf of people housed in immigration detention, click here.
Immigrants’ rights advocates hailed the lawsuit as an important step in addressing a chronic problem facing New Yorkers released from immigration detention.
“Whereas ICE and the local jail facilities believe that detention is short-term, the indefinite nature of detention exacerbates the condition of people with mental illness,” said a member of Families for Freedom, a human rights organization that assists people in deportation proceedings. “During detention, they are not aware of how to proceed once they are released. Because of their mental illness, without continuous established care, they are in an extremely vulnerable state, which makes it difficult for them to navigate services on their own.”
Click here to read a copy of the Complaint.
About New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
NYLPI (www.nylpi.org) advances equality and civil rights, with a focus on health justice, disability rights and environmental justice, through the power of community lawyering and partnerships with the private bar. Through community lawyering, NYLPI puts its legal, policy and community organizing expertise at the service of New York City communities and individuals. NYLPI’s partnership with the private bar strengthens its advocacy and connects community groups and nonprofits with critical legal assistance. NYLPI is the recipient of The New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Awards.
About Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP (www.simpsonthacher.com) is one of the world’s leading international law firms. The Firm was established in 1884 and has more than 900 lawyers. Headquartered in New York with offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, São Paulo, Seoul, Tokyo and Washington, D.C., the Firm provides coordinated legal advice and transactional capability to clients around the globe.