ICE reportedly gave an asylum-seeker at a detention center ibuprofen after he was shot in the head

Nicole Einbinder
Otay mesa

AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File

  • An indigenous man from Guatemala who was shot in the head and tortured was given just ibuprofen to treat his pain while detained at the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement repeatedly refused requests to release him, even after dozens of medical visits and an emergency room doctor described him as a "serious patient that presents with significant complexity of risk," according to the Guardian.
  • Advocates have long raised concern about access to adequate medical care in immigration detention facilities.
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A 27-year-old indigenous man from Guatemala who was shot in the head and tortured came to the US, hoping to seek asylum from the brutal violence in his home country.

But once he arrived, he was placed into solitary confinement at the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego. Officers there initially gave him only ibuprofen to treat the immense pain caused by the gunshot wound.

"I feared I was going to die," Rolando told the Guardian, which withheld his full name due to threats against his life. "I thought in this country, there is really good medical care... but I wasn't getting any treatment."

Rolando has routinely been a target for violence for his entire life, according to the Guardian. When he was a baby, his father was killed after resigning from the armed forces and becoming a supporter of the pro-indigenous movement. He said his mother died shortly after "from the trauma."

Rolando was shot in the head by the same people who may have targeted his father

When he was just a year old, Rolando was given to his neighbors to take care of him. He later became homeless and was frequently targeted by the people who he believes murdered his father, according to The Guardian.

He said that when he went to the police, they tortured him, placing nails in his hand and foot and burning his arms with hot knives.

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REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

In 2016, during a soccer game, he was shot in the head and left with a death threat that included a reference to his father's murder.

Unable to get medical care, Ronaldo had to — on his own — remove the bullet from his head. He said he fled to the US because police assaulted him instead of helping in the aftermath of the attack,

"Giving me an opportunity to be here is giving me an opportunity to stay alive," Rolando told the Guardian.

An ER doctor believed Rolando might have a brain hemorrhage. ICE gave him ibuprofen.

While Rolando survived the shooting, he suffered crippling headaches and, at times, blood out of his eyes, ears, and nose. While in the detention center, he would also sometimes lose consciousness. One ER doctor noted in records obtained by the Guardian that Rolando might have a brain hemorrhage.

Despite that, while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, he was offered limited access to medical care. His main form of treatment was ibuprofen, which also sometimes ran out.

Otay Mesa Detention Center

AP Photo/Elliot Spagat, File

ICE repeatedly refused requests to release him, even after dozens of medical visits, trips to the emergency room, and being described by the ER doctor as a "serious patient that presents with significant complexity of risk."

Rolando's attorney, Anne Rios, told the Guardian she was shocked when she obtained a copy of her client's ICE medical records, which ran more than 150 pages.

"It seems unbelievable, almost too absurd to be true," she said. "But it's not only documented, it's the government's own records."

When Insider contacted ICE about Rolando's case, the agency declined to comment, citing privacy concerns. A spokesperson said in a statement that "ICE is committed to ensuring that everyone in our custody receives timely access to medical services and treatment."

"Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay. All ICE detainees receive medical, dental and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care."


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REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Advocates have long raised concerns about access to adequate medical care in immigration detention facilities. Elizabeth Jordan, an attorney with the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, previously told Insider that screenings at facilities are often bare bone and that staff doesn't take complaints seriously, creating dangerous delays in providing care. She added that ibuprofen and water are often the standard prescriptions for illnesses across the board.

Read more: Immigrant detention centers are dealing with mumps and chicken pox outbreaks, and thousands have been put into quarantine

A 2018 Human Rights Watch report revealed woefully inadequate medical care in immigration detention facilities, citing evidence that "subpar and dangerous practices including unreasonable delays, poor practitioner and nursing care, and botched emergency response," contributed to detainee deaths.

Otay Mesa, in particular, has faced controversy. Detainees have alleged medical neglect and, just last week, a 37-year-old man from Cameroon died at the facility after suffering a brain hemorrhage.

Rolando may be deported back to Guatemala

Following three requests from his attorneys, Rolando was finally released from ICE detention last month after paying a $5,000 bond, according to the Guardian.

Al Otro Lado, the nonprofit legal services group where Rios is an attorney, reportedly footed the cost of the bond.

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REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

"For many, $5,000 might as well be $5m," Rios told the Guardian. "They come here with nothing, no resources, no family members, absolutely no way to pay for that."

Rolando, donning an ankle monitor, is now anxiously waiting for his asylum hearing, to find out if he can stay in the US or if he will be deported back to Guatemala. 

"When you're asking for asylum, you're swearing to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth," he told the Guardian. "I am telling the truth."

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