Q&A: Hamed Aleaziz on sparking an investigation into ICE’s medical care

ON DECEMBER 12, BuzzFeed News published a 3,000-word story by Hamed Aleaziz, an immigration reporter, based on an internal Department of Homeland Security memo, which detailed a whistleblower’s concerns over the medical care provided to ICE detainees. According to Aleaziz’s story, “two immigrants got preventable surgeries and two were given the wrong drugs. Four died—one after getting ‘grossly negligent’ care.” One of the deceased—Ronal Romero, 39, from Honduras—had been arrested on May 9, 2018, in Los Fresnos, Texas. Within a week of his arrest, Romero was transferred to ICE’s Port Isabel Detention Center, where he complained of ear pain and received medication for an ear infection. Romero died on May 16, 2018; an autopsy identified the cause of death as “sepsis complication with meningitis.” Shortly after the publication of Aleaziz’s report, the House Oversight and Reform Committee opened an investigation into ICE’s medical care.

CJR spoke with Aleaziz about his work reporting on ICE detention centers, and his experience covering a dynamic in detention that often goes undercovered. “It is really rare, in this industry, to get the time and the flexibility to do long-ranging investigative projects—to be told by editors and people in power that focusing on detention issues, on asylum, is really important to the core mission of our journalism,” says Aleaziz. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

It’s just a massive story, and I don’t think that it’s broken through to the American public. I don’t think it’s even top of mind in Washington, DC, given everything else that’s happening.

In December, you broke the story that Congress was investigating ICE medical care. That investigation followed your coverage of an internal complaint filed by a whistleblower.

Last year, I received a document showing that the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Division of DHS was looking into allegations made by a whistleblower at ICE. It was unlike anything I’ve seen before. It was just shocking to see somebody within ICE detail specifics on what they believe went wrong with cases all across the country. All types of issues from mental care to misdiagnoses. The allegations were so expansive, but also quite specific. I tried to dig into every single case.

By Amanda Darrach for COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW
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