School of Medicine Publications and Presentations

Document Type


Publication Date



Background: In the past decade, the U.S. immigration detention system regularly detained more than 30,000 people per day; in 2019 prior to the pandemic, the daily detention population exceeded 52,000 people. Inhumane detention conditions have been documented by internal government watchdogs, and news media and human rights groups who have observed over-crowding, poor hygiene and sanitation and poor and delayed medical care, as well as verbal, physical and sexual abuse.

Methods: This study surveyed health professionals across the United States who had provided care for immigrants who were recently released from immigration detention to assess clinician perceptions about the adverse health impact of immigration detention on migrant populations based on real-life clinical encounters. There were 150 survey responses, of which 85 clinicians observed medical conditions attributed to detention.

Results: These 85 clinicians reported seeing a combined estimate of 1300 patients with a medical issue related to their time in detention, including patients with delayed access to medical care or medicine in detention, patients with new or acute health conditions such as infection and injury attributed to detention, and patients with worsened chronic or special needs conditions. Clinicians also provided details regarding sentinel cases, categorized into the following themes: Pregnant women, Children, Mentally Ill, COVID-19, and Other serious health issue.

Conclusions: This is the first survey, to our knowledge, of health care professionals treating individuals upon release from detention. Due to the lack of transparency by federal entities and limited access to detainees, this survey serves as a source of credible information about conditions experienced within immigration detention facilities and is a means of corroborating immigrant testimonials and media reports. These findings can help inform policy discussions regarding systematic changes to the delivery of healthcare in detention, quality assurance and transparent reporting.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Publication Title

BMC Public Health



Academic Level


Mentor/PI Department


Included in

Public Health Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.