Legal Translation for Immigration Cases

Nepali Detainee on Hunger Strike May Receive Involuntary Medical Care

We’ve blogged before about obvious need for legal translators and legal interpreters for immigration cases. In the case below, In Re Khatri Chhetri Sher Bahadur, an immigration judge ordered the removal of a Nepali citizen who entered the United States in May of 2019 without inspection. The Nepali citizen (hereafter, “respondent”), was ordered to be removed in November of 2019 and filed an appeal before the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) before his removal. While the appeal was pending, the respondent initiated a hunger strike to protest his detainment on November 19, 2019.

Respondent Engages in Hunger Strike; Government Files Motion.

Upon engaging in a hunger strike, the respondent was placed on official “hunger strike protocol” under the care and supervision of a doctor. The respondent’s hunger strike continued, and on December 6, 2019, the Government filed a motion to provide involuntary medical care, hydration, and nutrition to the respondent. The Government’s motion was supported by an affidavit from a physician stating that an intervention was necessary to preserve the respondent’s life and that the respondent’s hunger strike had caused the respondent to suffer serious medical complications. The same day as the motion was filed, the Government transported the respondent to a hospital to have a “NG” tube inserted in order to provide the respondent with nutrition and hydration.

Court Grants Permission to Perform Involuntary Medical Care

The court granted the government’s motion and issued an order authorizing the government’s medical personnel to perform involuntary medical care for the respondent such as hydration and nutrition for thirty days. The court further ordered that a medical doctor from the hospital be physically present to personally monitor the involuntary procedures. The respondent was discharged from the hospital five days later. However, on December 23, 2019, the respondent became unresponsive while ICE medical personnel were performing a routine blood test and emergency medical services transported him to a local hospital. The respondent was then transferred back to the facility on December 26, 2019 and again back to the hospital three more times in January of 2020.

On December 20, 2019, the government filed a motion seeking to extend the court’s authorization of involuntary medical care for the respondent. At the hearing, the government presented testimony from ICE’s medical doctors and experts in an effort to demonstrate that the involuntary procedures were being performed properly. The respondent, however, argued that the government’s authorization should not be extended on the grounds that the respondent was receiving “substandard” care.

In evaluating the government’s motion, the court noted that the dispute placed federal courts in an “untenable predicament.” The court explained that either a court can continue extending authorization for force-feeding or deny such authorization and risk having the detainee starve to death. The court performed a detailed analysis of the issues and its authority to order the force-feeding of a detainee. First, the court found that allowing involuntary medical care did not constitute “punishment” in violation of the detainee’s constitutional rights. The court ruled that ICE’s policy was geared toward protecting the detainee’s health and well-being, which served a compelling legitimate government interest; specifically, the preservation of life and the prevention of suicide as well as avoiding exposure to lawsuits for being “deliberately indifferent” to a detainee’s suicide risk.

Inaccuracies In Respondent’s Medical Records Regarding His Native Language.

The court noted, however, that the respondent had demonstrated certain “oversights” in his medical care. For example, the court discussed how the respondent’s medical charts contained inconsistencies about his native language. One medical note said he spoke “Spanish,” another note said he spoke “English and Hindi,” and another note said the respondent spoke “English, Spanish, or Punjabi,” when in fact the respondent’s primary language was Nepali and he had a limited proficiency in English. The court noted that ICE’s policy specifically states that the facility is supposed to provide “detainees who are LEP with language assistance, including bilingual staff or professional interpretation and translation services, to provide them with meaningful access to its programs and activities…oral interpretation or assistance shall be provided to any detainee who speaks another language in which the material has not been translated.” The court also found certain medical errors in which ICE documented the respondent as having normal medical exams despite showing signs of worsening hypotension and moderate-to-severe dehydration.

Despite the above, the court found that the facility’s oversights did not amount to “punishment.” Accordingly, the court granted the government’s motion, allowing it to continue to provide involuntary medical care in order to preserve the respondent’s life. Nevertheless, in an effort to limit the respondent’s pain and suffering, the court ordered the government to alter certain conditions, such as requiring a competent medical doctor to be physically present during all nasogastric (NG) tube placements, and to apprise the court of its compliance with ICE’s policy and standards of medical care.

The case is In Re Khatri Chhetri Sher Bahadur, Court No. EP-19-CV-00357-DCG, decided on February 27, 2020 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, El Paso Division.

All Language Alliance, Inc. provides legal translators and interpreters in Nepali, Amharic, Kunama, Turkish, Sinhala, Mandarin, Tamil, Khmer, Korean, Cantonese, Oromo, and other common and rare foreign languages for immigration cases.

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