Special Projects Fund

Project Title

Detained and Denied: Improving Health Care Access for Immigrant Detainees

Grant Amount


Priority Area

Special Projects Fund

Date Awarded

October 11, 2017








Each year, thousands of New York City residents are detained in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention jails. Although not charged with criminal violations, they are primarily held to ensure that they attend future hearings concerning their immigration status.

Most of these detainees are lawful permanent residents (predominantly green card holders) and people who have lived in this country for decades, maintained employment, raised families, and had access to health care in the community through Medicaid or private insurance. But detention breaks that connection, making them reliant on the immigration detention facility, a local county jail, and ICE for health care services, some of which fail to provide adequate medical treatment. Among the many barriers to quality health care faced by immigrants in detention are a lack of information on requesting assistance, denial of health and mental health services, and a lack of discharge planning. In 2017, NYHealth awarded New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) a grant to develop and launch a comprehensive program to ensure that immigrants with serious illnesses who are confined to detention facilities receive adequate health care services while in custody and access to health care upon their release.

With NYHealth funding, NYLPI not only worked to improve health care access during detainment and upon release but also targeted every phase of immigration enforcement, including prevention, for systemic change. It worked to keep seriously ill immigrants out of detention entirely through advocacy efforts, partnerships, and trainings with medical providers, immigration legal service providers, and pro bono law firms. For those who are detained, NYLPI developed and expanded a volunteer medical network, covering many specialties, to ensure immigrants had a doctor to evaluate and support their needs. It also developed a larger medical-legal-community partnership to advocate for improved detainee health care and release, as well as identify larger patterns of deficiencies. A system was developed to improve discharge planning and ensure continuity of care and Medicaid for eligible detainees upon release. After solidifying this program in the New York City region, NYLPI sought to expand, replicate, and enhance it for detainees across New York State and nationally through further advocacy efforts.