Detained undocumented people don’t have much of a say about their treatment under custody by the U.S. government. We are not talking about felons, murderers, rapists, or hard criminals; we’re talking about detained undocumented migrants seeking asylum. So what is left for them to do? How else can they get people’s attention about their situation? They’re taking desperate measures.
More undocumented detainees are going on hunger strikes to protest bail policies and unfair treatment in detention centers.
According to NPR, there have been six hunger strikes at detention centers this year and immigration advocates say it’s due to the changing policy. The Trump administration has changed the policy to allow holding detainees without bail.
Since last year, President Trump has been saying that detainees won’t be released and await trial. Bail has long been the standard policy called due process under the law. Instead, the Trump administration wants to hold migrants until their cases are settled.
“We’re going to catch, we’re not going to release,” he said during a news conference in November. “They’re going to stay with us until the deportation hearing or the asylum hearing takes place…And they await a lengthy court process. The court process will take years sometimes for them to attend. Well, we’re not releasing them into our country any longer. They’ll wait.”
Attorney General William Barr went further and said that in 90 days they will implement a new no bail policy, which will cause overcrowding at centers and also more hunger strikes. The American Civil Liberties Union is already planning on using the Administration.
Last week, 150 detainees went on a hunger strike in Louisiana.
The Associated Press reports that detainees protested poor conditions and medical care in the detention center, others said they were frustrated that they were denied bond.
Officials there said only 24 detainees went on a hunger strike, but immigrant advocates say the number was actually 150.
“We have never seen so many hunger strikes in so many different places in less than three, four months,” Maru Mora Villalpando, an immigrants rights activist told NPR. “And the ones we have been able to engage with have been led by asylum-seekers.”
We shall see how many more detainees choose this route in the coming months.
Even though the United States migration and legal bureaucracy was perhaps not ready to process the number of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers that have crossed the border throughout the years, there is a basic duty of care (and a basic level of humanity) towards them.
While migrants are under United State custody, particularly if this happens over extended periods of time and even more so if the housing of detainees is subcontracted to a private company, it is the State’s responsibility to provide medical care and prevention that guarantees detainee health and relative well being.
In recent years, Global North countries have taken different approaches to migrant care. Canada and some Scandinavian countries, for instance, are welcoming and refugee status is given while the person waits for a resolution on their case. But countries like Australia and the United States are now infamous for the sometimes inhumane treatment that migrants receive. In the case of Australia, undocumented migrants not even reach Australian soil as they are treated in the offshore detentions centers of Naru and Manus Island, where conditions have been describes as horrific.
In the past four years the living conditions and medical care provided (or denied in the worst cases) to migrant detainees in the United States has worsened and stories come out every day of outbreaks, disease and mental health crisis suffered by those who tried to enter the United States without documents. Now Congress is taking a deeper look at these claims and has requested documents from ICE officials after a whistleblower’s memo claimed that the government “has systematically provided inadequate medical and mental health care and oversight to immigration detainees across the U.S.”.
There is evidently something wrong with the medical care provided to immigrant detainees and now Congress is looking into it con lupa.
The investigation was launched by The House Oversight and Reform Committee and will look into a whistleblower’s claim that the medical care given to detainees is substandard and actually endangers their lives. The investigation committee has demanded that the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials hand over documents to assess the extent of the problem.
The letters are signed by Rep. Jamie Raskin, the chair of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and addressed to Matthew Albence (acting ICE director) and Cameron Quinn (DHS officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties or CRCL). The request reads: “The Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is writing to request documents and information relating to reports of gross negligence by medical staff treating detainees in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).”
Gross negligence is a very big deal and is perhaps some of the strongest wording that Congress has used to refer to the Trump administration’s dealing of immigration detention.
Detainee deaths have become the status quo and volunteer doctors are not allowed to administer flu shots – that is just messed up.
The situation has gotten from bad to worse. The death of migrant children while in detention is sadly not a surprise to anyone anymore. Doctors want to provide flu shots to children in detention to prevent outbreaks and are forbidden to do so by officials. Mental health problems are running rampant and death by suicide is also increasing. By all accounts this is a health crisis.
As reported by BuzzFeed News, now Congress wants to lift every rug and examine the dirt lying underneath: “Raskin also called for documents on other allegations of improper medical care, all communications between ICE and CRCL discussing the medical care of detainees, internal death reviews, and any documents justifying personnel actions of individuals who worked for ICE and documented improper care or discussing retaliation against such an individual.”
This will surely be a lengthy and costly process as the animosity between the Democrat-led Congress and the White House reaches a boiling point post-impeachment.
The Department of Homeland Security has already provided Congress with 5,000 pages of documents… talk about an information dump!
The whistleblower’s memo depicts a terrifying situation on which negligence, for example, led to the death of a migrant by meningitis. Others have told officials that they would kill themselves and then do that without any preventive measures taken by authorities. A man became so mentally unstable that he lacerated his own penis. DHS said in a statement: “DHS is committed to the highest standard of care. We have more than 200 medical professionals on the border and are continually updating our policies and procedures.”
The battle to prove the claims will be an uphill legal battle. In the meantime, Congress’ investigation will be a de facto validation for human rights activists who have asked for closer supervision for months.
In 2018, seven undocumented children died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Seven may not seem like a lot, especially if you consider that thousands attempt to cross the southern border. However, the number is startling high when you take into consideration that previously to 2018, not one undocumented child had died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the past ten years. While some died due to health issues, people claim the deaths could have been prevented. Some of these deaths were investigated after there was a national outcry over the treatment of children in ICE and border custody.
After the death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General completed its investigation and found no wrongdoing on the part of border patrol officials.
Last year, the public was horrified to hear of the passing of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who died soon after crossing the border with her father in an attempt to seek asylum. Jakelin and her dad crossed the border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. As soon as the border patrol apprehended the pair, Jakelin’s dad requested medical help. Still, instead of taking her to a hospital right away, officials took her to another location, and her symptoms worsened after that. She soon went into cardiac arrest. Border Patrol EMT attempted to revive her twice. She was then airlifted to a hospital in El Paso where she ultimately succumbed to her symptoms.
Initially, government officials claimed that her father had been traveling with the young girl for days without water, but he disputed that. Her father claimed that his daughter “was fed and had sufficient water” during their journey from Guatemala to the U.S./ Mexico border. Furthermore, then Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan — who became Secretary of Homeland Security for a brief period (he resigned in October) — failed to notify Congress that Jakelin and 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez had died on his watch, which is required by law.
The brief announcement by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) stated that the investigation “found no misconduct or malfeasance by DHS personnel.”
In regards to the death of Jakelin, the “OIG conducted a detailed investigation and coordinated with the local medical examiner’s office,” the press release statement read. “The state medical examiner’s autopsy report found the child died of natural causes due to sequelae of Streptococcal sepsis.” That is the cause of death medical officials had originally released.
The death of 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez occurred just days after Jakelin passed away. Medical officials said he had an upper respiratory infection. He was given medication and then later released. But his condition did not improve, and he died on Christmas Eve 2018.
Both deaths sparked outrage from the public and immigration advocates. As news of their deaths was reported in the media, it appeared as if border officials were not treating undocumented adults and children with the care and dignity they deserved.
“What is CBP doing to fulfill its border security mission but not treat children and families as threats who have to be incarcerated and kept from treatment and trauma-informed counseling that they need?” Chris Rickerd, a lawyer with American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said to ABC News in December 2018.
The OIG report stated, in regards to 8-year-old Felipe, that after his condition got worse, the border patrol took him and his father to the hospital. That is where Felipe became unresponsive and was pronounced dead.
The “OIG conducted a detailed investigation and coordinated with the local medical examiner’s office,” the reported read. “The state medical examiner’s autopsy report found the child died from sepsis caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.”
While the OIG investigation said that the Border Patrol was not at fault, American doctors have long said that the conditions in which undocumented people are held in by the border patrol and ICE custody are unsanitary. They also said they need proper medical care.
“I’ve never had to fight so hard to give a vaccination to anyone, any patient, any population of patients who have needed it the most,” Dr. Bonnie Arzuaga told The Washington Post. “As a physician, I’m saddened by the stance our government has taken to deny basic preventative medicine to the people it is holding in its custody.”
It is unclear if the OIG is investigating the cases of the other children that died while in border patrol and ICE custody.