amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Report Highlights Failures in Delivery of HIV/AIDS Services for Immigrants Detained by the U.S.

February 11, 2008—According to a Human Rights Watch report published in December 2007, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has failed to meet national and international standards for appropriate care for HIV-positive detainees, including international human rights obligations and best practice advisories for correctional health services.

The U.S. government does not track how many detained immigrants are HIV positive or have AIDS, nor does it monitor how many need treatment. According to the best estimates, the U.S. currently detains nearly 28,000 immigrants in federal detention centers, prisons, and county jails. The growing number of detainees reflects changes in laws and policies intended to enforce restrictions on immigration to the U.S.

With the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and more stringent immigration laws passed after September 2001, detention conditions have only become harsher for all immigrant detainees, particularly those who are HIV positive and unable to access appropriate care and treatment while in custody. According to the Human Rights Watch report, detention facilities supervised by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) consistently fail to deliver antiretroviral drug treatment to HIV-positive detainees, conduct necessary laboratory tests, and ensure continuity of care between detention facilities. Furthermore, correctional facilities do not always ensure confidentiality of medical care for inmates, potentially exposing HIV-positive immigrant detainees to discrimination and violence. The HIV/AIDS care offered in ICE facilities falls short of best medical practices established by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the American Public Health Association Standards for Health Care in a Correctional Setting.

These problems pose significant public health challenges to the U.S., including the development of increased resistance to HIV medications and even death for detainees. In addition, the U.S. deports many of the immigrants detained in ICE facilities, which often results in HIV-positive immigrants being sent to countries where appropriate medical care is unavailable, and makes it more difficult to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS internationally.

[1] Human Rights Watch. Chronic Indifference. HIV/AIDS Services for Immigrants Detained by the United States. December 2007. Available at: