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


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.


These 85 clinicians reported seeing a combined 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 including infection and injury attributed to detention and patients with worsened chronic conditions 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.


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

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Mentor/PI Department


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Public Health Commons



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