Detained Migrants Were Allegedly Abused

By Esther Yu-Hsi Lee

A 14-year-old Guatemalan migrant is left stranded in a wooded area in Mexico after the freight train she was traveling on had a minor derailment. Credit: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

After she arrived at an immigrant detention facility, a Guatemalan woman who sought out medical care for an ear injury and extreme pain was given a cotton ball, ear drops, and a mild painkiller. Her son, who had a severe cough which persisted for eight days, had a fever that went untreated. One six-year-old girl vomited blood for several days and was given emergency medical care only after she lost consciousness. Another eight-year-old girl regressed to breastfeeding after she stayed in detention for eight months.

These are just some of the details that five migrant women and their children are alleging in a $10 million tort claim, a precursor to a federal lawsuit seeking damages for the “abuse, neglect, and trauma” that they say they suffered at the hands of the Department of Homeland Security officials.

“By bearing witness and helping these women assert these claims, we are undermining the government’s narrative that this is a kindler [sic] gentler, detention policy,” Andrew R. Free, the Nashville, Tennessee-based lawyer representing the migrant women, told the Associated Press.

“When you consider the claims being made here, this is five clients, but they really represent the more than 3,000 folks that have been processed through these massive internment camps through this past year,” Aseem Mehta, a fellow at the immigrant advocacy group Immigrant Justice Corps, told ThinkProgress. “These five cases that were highlighted are just examples of what the government’s been doing to women and children detained, but it’s by no means unique. These are hundreds of other cases.”

Just last week, the Obama administration maintained that it should continue to detain migrant mothers and children when they cross the southern U.S. border. The administration insists that it’s already improved policies, anticipating that they would be able to release families entering in country in the future within an average of 20 days.

Advocates are skeptical about the policy change and are calling for an end to family detention altogether. “Despite their attempts to justly detain women and children, there is no way to justly do that,” Amy Fisher, the policy director at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), an advocacy organization that’s supporting the $10 million tort claim, told ThinkProgress.

An American Immigration Council report found that while the numbers of asylum claimants from Central America and Mexico have increased, both the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency and immigration courts have granted asylum at low rates to people from those countries.

“If you look at a lot of the claims that are a part of these lawsuits, a 20-day period in detention is 20 days too long,” Fisher said, adding that the Obama administration’s practice of “short term” detention is insufficient. “The appropriate response would be to allow these women to come to the United States and fight their cases and seek asylum in the community so that they can have quality access to legal services, psychological treatment because they are legitimately escaping trauma, and adequate access to medical facilities.”

Still, critics say that keeping migrants in detention is a necessary policy to deter future border crossers. “Without detention, there is no immigration enforcement,” Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the right-leaning immigration restrictionist group Center for Immigration Studies, told ThinkProgress.

Krikorian said he hadn’t yet looked at the tort claim from the five families seeking millions in damages, so he couldn’t comment on the specific case. “I, frankly, take these claims with a grain of salt because there’s a political incentive to make these kinds of claims,” he said. “My problem is why are they in detention at all? The reason they’re in detention is because their credible fear determinations have been approved, which they shouldn’t have. This administration approves 90+ percent of credible fear determinations.”

Krikorian added that migrants shouldn’t be allowed to apply for asylum in the United States because they should have completed that process in Mexico.

However, as Georgetown Law School’s Human Rights Institute found earlier this year, Mexican immigration officials fail to adequately screen migrant children for international protection, and children often don’t know they can apply for asylum in that country.

“Passing through Mexico is often the most dangerous and difficult part of the journey and there are no protections or rule of law at the southern Mexican-Guatemalan border, which is where someone would have the opportunity to make that asylum claim,” Mehta said. “We have an international legal obligation to provide asylum rights to asylum seekers.”

This isn’t the first time that migrant women have publicly called on the DHS agency to end family detention. Ten migrant women recently lodged formal complaint claiming that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency provided inadequate medicare care when they were detained in family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania. According to a 2011 ICE guidebook, immigrants should receive a “continuum of health care services, including screening, prevention, health education, diagnosis and treatment.”

from ThinkProgress (

ICE frees some migrant women & children


by Franco Ordoñez

June 12, 2015

WASHINGTON — Federal officials have released at least a half-dozen detained mothers and their children from a south Texas detention center as scrutiny of the Obama administration’s family detention program escalates.

On Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced he will travel to the Karnes County Residential Center on Monday to review its operations and talk with locally based federal immigration and border protection officials. Seven Democratic members of Congress are also planning a trip to the facility this month to speak with detainees.

The Karnes facility has been immersed with problems the past two weeks after a teenage mother was deported days after attempting suicide.

The release in the past day of a handful of mothers on bond indicates a shift in how the administration handles cases for those who have been detained the longest. They include mothers who previously have been deported and who previously had not received bond.

Several of the mothers released had been locked up with their children since last summer, advocates said. They gained their release after paying bonds between $1,500 and $8,500

Mohammad Abdollahi, with the Texas-based Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was smart to release the most outspoken mothers. Those released had taken part earlier this year in a hunger strike denouncing the conditions of their detainment.

“What other option do they have than to release the women who are going to bring this whole thing down?” Abdollahi asked.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials cited the agency’s enhanced oversight of family detention announced last month by ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña as the reason for the latest action. Those changes include regular reviews of the longer detentions to determine whether bond is appropriate. Officials emphasized that doesn’t means all cases, such as previously deported mothers, are under a policy to be released.

But lawyers and advocates said the move is political, as it comes less than two weeks before a planned visit from members of Congress who want the facilities closed.

The Obama administration runs three family detention centers in Karnes County and Dilley, Texas, and in Berks County, Pa. The facilities, which can hold more than 3,000 mothers and children, were opened in response to last year’s surge of more than 68,000 migrant families fleeing Central America.

In April, a federal judge distributed a confidential draft ruling that the practice violates parts of an 18-year-old agreement on detaining migrant children. On Thursday, McClatchy published the confidential ruling, which is under a strict gag order.

At least seven Democratic members of Congress are planning to visit the Karnes and Dilley facilities on June 22-23. They will tour the facilities and speak with detainees about conditions and access to lawyers. The members are all among the 136 House Democrats who called on Secretary Johnson to end family detention.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who is helping lead the visit, said more people need to hear about what is happening at the detention centers.

“There is a lot of momentum and pressure on Secretary Johnson and the president to end the detention of kids and moms,” he said in a statement. “These children were already traumatized by their journey and the violence they were escaping. We should not re-traumatize them by holding them for months and months.”

Whether the result of advocacy work, shame or political pressure, ICE has addressed some of the humanitarian factors that favor release, said Javier Maldonado, an attorney who represents mothers detained at the Karnes facility.

“I’m glad they’re doing this,” Maldonado said. “They should do it for all of them.”

from McClatchy DC (