The growing list of allegations against ICE, DHS, and Border Patrol sent a group of members of Congress to Texas on Monday. Their mission was to get inside a for-profit migrant detention center.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Veronica Escobar, and Joaquin Castro were among the group that traveled to Texas to visit what many are calling a migrant prison.
While they had to check their phones with security, many of them took to Twitter to share the horrors they saw inside. Castro, however, managed to take photos and videos, further proving that the heartbreaking conditions at these facilities are unacceptable.
Castro, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, led a delegation of more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers to tour the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities in southwest Texas on Monday.
The delegation was told to “surrender their phones” ahead of the tour, AOC wrote on Twitter. But Castro “was able to get a device in.”
Castro said in an interview that he had no second thoughts about taking and sharing the images after officials had asked the lawmakers on a facility tour to leave their cellphones behind. He posted the images after visiting a station in El Paso.
The group was able to meet with women who wanted their photos and stories to be shared with the world.
The congressional members met with a group of women in custody who agreed to be filmed and gave their names, according to a senior aide in Castro’s office.
His undercover videos showed women who had been denied showers for more than two weeks and others who had been denied medication.
Castro posted the video on his Twitter account purportedly showing the women, who he said were all from Cuba, sitting in sleeping bags on a concrete floor of a small cell, which he said had a toilet but no running water to drink from or to wash their hands.
“Many said they had not bathed for 15 days,” Castro tweeted. “Some had been separated from children, some had been held for more than 50 days. Several complained they had not received their medications, including one for epilepsy.”
And showers that are so tiny it would seem impossible to even turn around in them.
Next, the delegation toured a border patrol station in Clint, which Castro said houses children and some parents. Castro posted a video on Twitter purportedly showing the mobile shower units there, which he described as “dank, dirty” and “small in number for the hundreds of people there just a few weeks ago.”
Castro also recounted seeing a young boy in custody at the facility who smiled and “pressed his face against the dirty glass of a locked steel door,” trying to talk to them through the thick glass.
Ingraham —a virulent racist who has cozied up to white nationalists and continued to downplay the inhumanity of separating migrant children from their families and placing them in cages — chimed in, comparing the conditions for children in detention to those of U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq.
Castro shot back: ““You’re a white supremacist, Laura. And, no, I don’t think refugees should be kept in war-zone conditions in the most prosperous nation on earth.”
The deaths of migrants in US government custody have sparked outrage and cast a spotlight on the treatment of immigrants detained by authorities. But, despite the outrage and grief, little seems to be being done to improve the conditions immigrants are being held in.
In fact, recent reports indicate that the Trump administration is actually moving to make life for migrants even more miserable (and dangerous) while in government custody. From not providing for basic sanitary needs to withholding critical vaccinations and even deporting migrants in need of life-saving medical care, this administration is putting countless lives at risk.
Given the administration’s contempt of migrants coming to the US to seek asylum or simply better opportunities, the deaths of migrants are not at all surprising. Although they’re largely an avoidable tragedy — until Trump took office deaths of migrants in US custody were exceedingly rare — the situation in detention centers is likely to get worse before it improves.
At least eight people have died in ICE custody at adult detention centers this year, according to information released by ICE and compiled by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Here are those who we’ve lost since January 2019:
Abel Reyes-Clemente, 54, Mexico
While in ICE custody at an Arizona corrections center, Reyes-Clemente displayed signs of the flu and was “placed into medical observation” on April 1, ICE said. Two days later, facility personnel found him around 6 a.m., unresponsive and not breathing.
This case is a particular reminder of the cruelty of the administration’s policies. Reyes-Clemente likely died of complications related to the flu yet it was just recently announced that the government will not provide flu vaccines to migrants for the upcoming flu season.
Simratpal Singh, 21, India
The Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner listed suicide as the manner of death and hanging as the primary cause of death on its website. Autopsy results have not yet been released.
Unidentified Man, 40, Mexico
The man died at Las Palmas Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, after being apprehended by CBP agents for illegal re-entry early Sunday morning, according to a CBP news release. Hours after being apprehended, the unnamed man was evaluated by medical personnel at the Border Patrol’s processing facility near Paso Del Norte Port of Entry.
CBP said the man was transported to the medical center after being diagnosed with flu-like symptoms, liver failure and renal failure. He died later that day.
Johana Medina Leon, 25, El Salvador
The cause of death for Medina Leon, the asylum seeker who died on June 1, remains unclear. Like Roxana Hernandez, a transgender woman who died in ICE custody last summer, Medina Leon was diagnosed with HIV while she was detained.
Medina Leon, known to her friends as “Joa,” became ill while detained at the Otero County Processing Center, a private detention center in New Mexico where the ACLU and the Santa Fe Dreamer Project recently alleged poor treatment of, and “unconscionable conditions,” for LGBTQ immigrants.
Unidentified Woman, 40, Honduras
The woman, who was not identified, died shortly after being apprehended after crossing the border.
The woman, who crossed the border without authorization in Eagle Pass, Texas, at about 6:20 a.m., collapsed about 25 minutes later at the Eagle Pass South Station. In a statement, Border Patrol said agents and officers administered medical care until emergency medical services arrived at 6:55 a.m. She was taken to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead.
The tragedy marked the second time in less than 36 hours that a person had died immediately following their perilous migration from their home in Central America, through Mexico and across the southwest border.
Yimi Alexis Balderramos-Torres, 30, Honduras
Balderramos-Torres had previously been apprehended by immigration officials in El Paso, Texas, on May 17, according to a statement released by ICE. The man was accompanied by his son when he was encountered by Border Patrol on May 17, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
Balderramos-Torres had been sent back to Mexico under a Trump administration program that requires Central American immigrants to wait outside the US as their asylum cases make their way through the immigration courts. On May 27, Balderramos-Torres again crossed the border without authorization and was picked up by local police in the US during a traffic stop.
On June 30, Balderramos-Torres was found “unresponsive,” and medical officials at the facility were unable to revive him. He was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead Sunday morning. A cause of death is pending as officials conduct an autopsy.
Pedro Arriago-Santoya, 44, Mexico
Pedro Arriago-Santoya was awaiting deportation at the Stewart Detention Facility in Lumpkin prior to his death at an area hospital.
Medical staff at a hospital in Columbus determined the man’s preliminary cause of death as cardiopulmonary arrest, followed by multi-organ system failure; endocarditis, an infection in the heart’s inner lining; dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disease; and respiratory failure, ICE said in a statement.
In custody since April, Arriago-Santoya told immigration authorities he felt stomach pain on July 20, leading a nurse practitioner to send him via ambulance to a hospital in Cuthbert. Medical staff suspected he had gall bladder disease, ICE said, and, the next day, sent him to the hospital where he died waiting for surgery consultation.
Marvin Antonio González, 32, El Salvador
Like many Salvadoran migrants before them, Marvin Gonzalez and his eight-year-old daughter Joselyn set off from their farm surrounded by corn and sugarcane one morning in early July with dreams of better lives in the United States.
Gonzalez, 32, planned to reunite the girl with her mother in North Carolina, and later send for his current wife from El Salvador.
The two made it across the U.S. border in late July. Then their luck turned. After they were detained in El Paso, Gonzalez died from heart-related causes that seemed to have flared up suddenly.
Norma Palacios, 23, the wife of the younger Gonzalez, said she had planned to eventually join her husband in the United States, bringing along their daughter Tifany, but had changed her mind.
“Our dream was to be together there, but now with what happened, I don’t have the courage to go alone,” she said in an interview with Reuters.
Roberto Rodriguez-Espinoza, 37, Mexico
Staff at the jail saw Rodriguez-Espinoza “acting confused” on Sept. 7 and transferred him to Northwestern Medicine Woodstock Hospital in Woodstock for evaluation, ICE said. He was transferred to Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital the next day, where he was diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage.
He was transferred to Central DuPage for a neurosurgery consultation and became unresponsive during a neurological exam, ICE said.
Many of these deaths were likely preventable. Human Rights Watch asked for an independent medical analysis of 15 recent deaths in immigration detention; in eight cases, subpar medical care contributed or led to the fatalities. The same is true for 23 of the 52 deaths in immigration detention for which we have such analysis since 2010.
ICE has dramatically expanded the number of people in its dangerous system, including particularly vulnerable people like children and pregnant women.
By locking up people who aren’t a flight risk or a threat to public safety, the US guarantees a ballooning, abusive, and expensive system, despite the existence of more cost-effective and humane alternatives to detention.
It is quite evident that undocumented immigrants are experiencing torture at unimaginable levels. Some risk never seeing their family again; others are getting sick; some are drinking out of the toilet; young girls aren’t given the proper feminine products; some are being sexually abused; others are experiencing physical and emotional abuse; some are sent to Mexico, a country they do not know; and, if they’re lucky they are given asylum only to endure a lifetime of uncertainty in a country that is led by a person who clearly doesn’t want them here. Shall we go on? Okay, let’s continue.
An investigation led by several news outlets and immigration advocacy groups shows that “one of every 200 detainees has spent at least two weeks in isolation.”
The investigation includes years of documents that date back not just to the Trump Administration by the Obama Administration as well. The report found that while both administrations placed undocumented people in solitary confinement, under the Trump Administration immigration officials were citing suicide watch and “protective custody for LGBT people” as a reasoning for keeping isolated. To further illustrate just how much of this population was placed in these harsh conditions, the report shows that between “2016 to early 2018, about 40 percent of undocumented immigrants were in solitary confinement.”
One of those people in solidarity confinement was a 36-years-old trans-Latina from Central America. She was only allowed one hour a day to walk outside.
“You never know what day it is, what time it is,” Dulce Rivera said in an interview with NBC News. “Sometimes you never see the sun.”
The reason she was put in solitary confinement because immigration officials reportedly got wind that Rivera had kissed and touched another person in detention. According to NBC News, those reports were later to be unfounded. Rivera said that because of her solitary confinement she became more and more depressed and attempted suicide. She attempted to hang herself in her cell with a noose made from her blanket. Thankfully a guard saw her, cut her down, and saved her life. Now Rivera faced another problem. Instead of immigration officials giving her the mental health help that she needed, because of her suicide attempt, they put her in solitary confinement yet again.
The investigation shows that detention officials have several reasons for putting undocumented immigrants in solitary confinement. Some of those reasons include sneaking in sugar packets, menstrual blood stains on a uniform, being gay, among other things.
In response to this investigation Bryan Cox, a spokesman for ICE, told the Atlantic they are using the proper protocol to decide when a detainee should be placed in solitary confinement. He added, “any suggestion that the use of segregation in ICE custody is above the norm for detained populations would be a false claim.”
The Atlantic also reported that under the Obama Administration, ICE officials would resort to solitary confinement for unjust reasons. For example, they list that one detainee got “14 days disciplinary segregation for failure to follow the meal procedure,” another got “14 days for asking to pay an officer to buy him cigarettes,” and another “30 days for making perceived threats because he asked an officer for his address.”
So how long were these detainees held in solitary confinement? The investigation shows that some of them were in there for hundreds of days and one man was in isolation for 780 days.
A 2014 story by PBS discussed the dangers of solitary confinement and what that does to a person’s mental health. Not only does it make a person more dangerous but the majority of them want to kill themselves just to escape the feeling loneliness. Others who are allowed to return and engage with other detainees/prisoners face another kind of dilemma. They’ve forgotten how to interact with others around them.
“I’ve had prisoners tell me that the first time they’ve been given an opportunity to interact with other people, they can’t do it,” Craig Haney, a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, told PBS. “They don’t come out of their cell … And obviously this social atrophy, the anxiety which surrounds social interaction can be extremely disabling and problematic for people who are released from solitary confinement, either released back into the larger prison community or even more poignantly, released from solitary confinement into the larger society.”
Ellen Gallagher, a policy advisor at the Department of Homeland Security, exposed this horrific treatment of undocumented immigrants in solitary confinement.
“We have created and continue to support a system that involves widespread abuse of human beings,” Gallagher told NBC News. “People were being brutalized.”