Immigrant Women Allege Mistreatment at US Detention Centers

Seth Robbins, Associated Press, August 10, 2015

Five immigrant mothers held in facilities with their children are seeking millions of dollars in damages from the U.S. government for what they contend is psychological and physical harm as a result of being detained, according to court papers filed Monday.

Andrew Free, a Nashville immigration lawyer representing the women, filed tort claims against the Department of Homeland Security, alleging the detained women and their children received inadequate medical care, suffered psychological trauma and in some cases were wrongfully imprisoned.

The tort claims, a precursor to a federal lawsuit, also target U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE oversees two family detention centers in South Texas and another in Pennsylvania that currently hold about 1,400 people.

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ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen refused to comment on the pending litigation as a matter of policy. But she said the agency ensures that the centers operate in an “open environment” and are “an effective and humane alternative for maintaining family unity as families go through immigration proceedings or await return to their home countries.” The facilities provide access to play areas, educational services, medical care and legal help, she said. ICE officials have also said that it was necessary to detain families to ensure they didn’t vanish.

But Free said that the reality of family detention is far different and that the government has “fallen below the standard of care that they owe to these detainees,” as well as violated their rights as asylum seekers by using detention as a deterrent.

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Claimants in the 60-page filing, all from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador, include a woman who said she received poor care for an injured ear because she could not speak to the medical staff in her indigenous language. Another said her children were among 250 kids given an erroneously high dose of a hepatitis A vaccine, despite their having proof of previous vaccination. A mother and daughter fleeing gang violence and held for more than six months were both diagnosed by a psychologist with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression exacerbated by their long detention.

A Honduran mother reported that her 8-year-old daughter attempted to breast-feed again, and another woman and her son said they had languished in detention for 28 days after having passed their credible fear interview, the first legal hurdle for asylum. When the same woman sought treatment for her broken fingers and wrist, she was allegedly told to “drink more water” by medical staff and her son was rushed to the hospital after “a virus apparently had gone untreated for a dangerously long time,” according to the court papers.

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