Los Angeles Times: "Mother who fled Honduras 'to escape abuse, mistreatment' says 'it's the same' in U.S."

by Joseph McKeown

Ten immigrant women who have been held in controversial for-profit family Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers have filed complaints with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) alleging wide-ranging inadequate and neglectful medical care at the facilities. In their complaints, the women allege that they and their children were routinely denied adequate medical care, including:

  •  A child vomiting blood was told to drink water and was not referred for off-site medical care for three days.
  •  A woman with two broken fingers was denied medical care and advised to “drink more water.”
  •  A woman with breast cancer was repeatedly denied medical treatment.
  •  More than 250 children were mistakenly given adult doses of a Hepatitis A vaccine.
  •  A 5-year-old was repeatedly transferred off site for medical care only to have on-site medical professionals later refuse to  issue prescribed medication.

One of the woman filing a complaint is a twenty-four-year-old Honduran held in Dilley, Texas with her five-year-old daughter. She alleges that it took weeks to get her sick daughter treated, and even after she sought assistance from the Honduran consulate, the detention center refused to prescribe the necessary medications. She said in the Los Angeles Times: “I thought I came to this country to escape abuse, mistreatment and disrespect...But it's the same here.”

Substandard Medical Care

Jonathan Ryan, executive director of San Antonio-based Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), one the organizations who assisted in filing the complaints, said to the Los Angeles Times: “The substandard medical care that these women have access to is one of the principal examples of ICE’s inability to manage family detention in a way that is safe...There are mothers and children in these facilities with significant, time-sensitive issues that are not being treated.”

Olivia Lopez, a licensed social worker who quit her job at the Karnes Detention Center, testified recently before Congress that women were being routinely denied adequate medical care and that she had been asked to withhold key medical information from their files, ignore medical complaints, and condone other “unethical” behavior that if ignored would jeopardize her license.

The End of Family Detention?

These complaints come after a July 24 ruling by federal district court Judge Dolly Gee in Flores v. Johnson that the Obama administration's policy of detaining children with their mothers in family detention centers violates the national Flores Settlement Agreement, which in 1997 set standards for the detention and treatment of immigrant children, and ordered the release of the children and their mothers.  

In a letter last Friday, Senators Patrick Leahy and Patty Murray called on DHS to comply with Judge Gee's ruling and “release the children and their mothers without delay” from the Karnes and Dilley detention centers:

The presumptive detention of families is a flawed policy. Most of the families currently detained traveled to the United States seeking refuge from three of the most dangerous countries in the world, countries where women and girls face shocking rates of domestic and sexual violence and gender violence, including murder. Treating these vulnerable women and children like criminals is simply wrong.

Apart from these complaints, for-profit detention centers have also come under criticism for abuses in the detainee work programs. Carl Takei, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project, told the Los Angeles Times after visiting the family detention center in Dilley, Texas: “We have a name for locking people up and forcing them to do real work without wages. It's called slavery[.]”