Report Shows Abuses of Women in Immigration Detention Centers

A new report by the University of Arizona reveals the substandard medical treatment afforded to women at immigration detention centers.

The study concluded that immigration authorities were too aggressive in detaining the women, who rarely posed a flight risk, and that as a result, they experienced severe hardships, including a lack of prenatal care, treatment for cancer, ovarian cysts and other serious medical conditions, and, in some cases, being mixed in with federal prisoners.

A sample story:

[A] woman being held at the Central Arizona Detention Center in Florence who experienced excruciating abdominal pain for months after she had been forced to undergo female genital mutilation in West Africa was told by the center’s staff to “exercise and watch her diet,” her lawyer at the time, Raha Jorjani, said. After nearly six months, the woman, who had been convicted of a nonviolent crime, was taken to a hospital where an ultrasound revealed a cyst the size of a five-month-old fetus, Ms. Jorjani said.

Immigration officials then suddenly released the woman with no money or health insurance to treat the cyst, Ms. Jorjani said.

Nationally, 3,000 are being held in immigration detention centers pending deportation. The study examined three centers in Arizona, home state to our new Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano. [More...]

ICE officials deny the charges. Yet,

The director of border research for the institute on women, Nina Rabin, an immigration lawyer who led the study, countered that interviews with detainees, former detainees and their lawyers corroborated a pattern of endemic mistreatment.

And Ms. Rabin said she had spoken with immigrant advocacy groups around the United States, many of whom stated that mistreatment of women at the centers was not unusual.

The centers which were the subject of the study are not ICE facilities, but those of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department and the Corrections Corporation of America.

It's not a new problem:

The immigration department has been under increasing pressure to improve conditions at its detention centers. The federal Government Accountability Office and the inspector general’s office at the Department of Homeland Security have each released reports in the last three years criticizing standards at such centers, many of which are operated by private contractors.

President Obama promised the Latinos he would be their champion. This isn't an issue of Latino and immigrant rights, it's an issue of human rights.

Another problem:

Last September, the immigration department announced plans to improve conditions at its detention centers, but the new rules will not fully take effect until 2010. Meanwhile, Congress has been weighing whether to impose its own requirements on the department after a New York Times article on immigrants who died in federal custody.

Let's hope Obama directs his new HSA chief to look into this report immediately and order any remedial action. The first step might be to cancel the contract with Corrections Corporations of America, the private prison system. Another would be to move up the 2010 date. A third might be to allow these women to remain at liberty on bond pending a final removal hearing. A fourth might be to ensure they have access to counsel who can advise them on topics like whether they are eliglble for asylum.

With Obama's huge staff, these are the kinds of issues that need to be nipped in the bud with a simple directive: "This is not acceptable." And his new HSA chief must make it a top priority. Refusing needed medical treatment to an ill prisoner is a human rights violation. We cannot restore ourselves as a leader of the free world when we allow these critical abuses to continue.

Obama needs to read the study personally and then send Napolitano out in the field to determine her own assessment of it. I can't think of a more helpless group than non-dangerous Hispanic and Latino women in jail-- if even one of of these stories is true, this needs to be acted on immediatley.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Arizona put through a pretty tough (none / 0) (#1)
    by Inspector Gadget on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 01:55:17 AM EST
    law against illegals back in 2004 or 5. Everyone was confused and concerned about just what the law actually covered. On the surface, it appeared that anyone who provided assistance to an illegal alien was subject to criminal prosecution. That meant EMT's, school teachers, etc.

    Napolitano was governor and the people of her state voted it in.

    I think the post tells a horrible tale of neglect. But, it isn't as though millions of us who are Americans by birth aren't in the same situation. I have no medical insurance and no means to pay for routine medical, so I sure would go through the same thing if something were to go wrong physically.  I don't think we are singling out the illegals where medical needs are concerned.

    Immigration (none / 0) (#2)
    by koshembos on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 08:48:43 AM EST
    As a naturalized citizen I know the immigration services quite well. Since they don't deal with American citizens they feel free and immune from the scrutiny other government agencies are under. That obviously leads to unchecked and unhindered abuse of detainees as well as other individuals who come in contact with the agency.

    Changing that reality is quite difficult. Even if Obama wants change the effort needed may well be too high in today's reality.

    There is also a racial element in the mistreatment. Whenever I came to the immigration office, I was, typically, the only white person in the waiting room; everyone else was Latino, Asian or African. I was treated much better than others. At times I had long conversations with the officials that went well beyond the purpose of the visit; they identified with me and were happy to deal with me.

    Not surprised you had long conversations, (none / 0) (#3)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 11:31:53 AM EST
    I don't imagine the personnel you were having those long convos with were nearly as equally fluent in the languages of those others in the waiting room who were from Senegal, Tibet, Peru, etc.

    My wife (none / 0) (#4)
    by Che's Lounge on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 11:32:11 AM EST
    spent a month in the Las Vegas facility about ten years ago (before I met her and she is now a legal resident). Once she established with a certain guard that she would not have sex with him, her treatment changed dramatically.

    what about men? (none / 0) (#5)
    by diogenes on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 08:30:05 PM EST
    Is this report saying that men all get great medical care in the detention centers?  Why the focus on women, unless it is meant to be inflammatory?