by Cindy Knoebel

Finally, five months after seeing a doctor, Charley Estuardo Paul Cruz had surgery for his knee injury. He had been detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center since August 2019, but his ailment went untreated for months.

No doubt Mr. Cruz was hopeful about his recovery. His surgeon had recommended physical therapy, and in the meantime, since he was unable to walk, he was provided with a wheelchair.

But what should have been routine, post-surgery treatment ultimately turned into a Kafka-esque nightmare for Mr. Cruz.

Mr. Cruz underwent surgery in January, 2020. But it wasn't until six long months later - in July, 2020 - that he was allowed to receive physical therapy. In the meantime, his wheelchair had been taken away from him - no explanation provided.

As a result, Mr. Cruz was forced to drag himself along on the floor. He had a court hearing on July 7, but missed it because of his severe disability; accordingly, his immigration case may be compromised.

On July 10, while attempting to crawl to the medical clinic, an officer harrassed him about his condition. It wasn't until another officer intervened that the harrassment ceased.

As of August 17, ICE has reported 168 positive COVID-19 cases at Otay Mesa - and one death. The facility currently ranks fifth in the nation for the number of confirmed cases. Given his condition and lack of proper medical care, Mr. Cruz clearly faces a heightened risk of contracting the virus.

To date, Mr. Cruz remains unable to move from his unit. He can't shower or attend to his personal hygiene needs, or practice proper safety protocols. His mental health is deteriorating, but a psychiatrist has claimed there's nothing wrong with him. And after recently reviewing his medical record, Mr. Cruz can find no mention of his interactions with the medical staff.

Apalled by Mr. Cruz's situation and the medical and psychological neglect he has endured, on August 14 Freedom for Immigrants submitted a Civil Rights and Civil Liberties complaint on his behalf. The complaint, sent to Field Office Director Gregory Archambeault, Otay Mesa's Senior Warden Christopher LaRose and DHS Officer Cameron Quinn, stresses Mr. Cruz's "urgent medical need" and notes that he has been denied the care he is entitled to under ICE policy, the U.S. Constitution, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  

"ICE and CoreCivic [which operates the facility] also have a constitutional obligation to Mr. Cruz which is in violation," the complaint states. "By refusing to provide appropriate and timely medical care and accommodations for Mr. Cruz's  serious knee injury, with potential immigration consequences, ICE and CoreCivic violate Mr. Cruz's right to due process under the Fifth Amendment and his rights under the Eighth amendment by showing deliberate indifference and placing him at serious risk of harm, constituting cruel and unusual punishment." The letter was signed by Sofia Casini, Director of Visitation Advocacy Strategies for Freedom for Immigrants.

Freedom for Immigrants is demanding an immediate investigation into the violations of Mr. Cruz's rights and, within one week, a written response to a list of actions designed to help ameliorate the physical and pychological suffering he has endured while under the custody of ICE and CoreCivic.

The deadline for a response - if one comes - is this Friday, just a few short days away. But for Mr. Cruz, it's likely to feel like an eternity.