Ten migrant mothers have filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security over what they describe as serious neglect and poor treatment at family detention centers. “The overarching issue here is that you have traumatized women and children, and that detention I think is increasing the trauma and the negative physical and mental health effects that come with that, coupled with a health service that is not capable of providing for the needs of these women,” said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC). CLINIC was one of six organizations that filed the complaint on the mothers’ behalf. The complaint alleges that migrant mothers received substandard care while at three family detention centers, two of them in Texas and one in Pennsylvania. They complained of “inadequate access to and quality of care, a lack of opportunity for informed consent, inadequate oversight and accountability, and questionable medical ethics.” Several complaints said that mothers were told by attendants to just “drink more water” to treat ailments such as broken bones, vomiting after surgery, and fainting spells. They reported waits as long as 14 hours at a time to receive medical care. Children were allegedly vaccinated in the middle of the night with the mothers unaware of what the vaccine was. If their child had already received that vaccine and they tried to stop the caregivers, they were ignored, the complaint said. In one case, 250 migrant children reportedly received an adult dose of the Hepatitis-A vaccine. “Further, the manner in which these vaccines were administered during the night without advance notice or informed consent by the mothers raises serious ethical issues,” the letter stated. In another case that Atkinson mentioned, a psychologist ordered a mother, who was suicidal, to keep her child in the room during a session even though the mother wanted privacy. The order made it clear that it was “not meaningful treatment” being offered, Atkinson said. The “rampant issues of substandard care” are just more evidence of the “inhumanity” of the detention centers for migrants, she continued. “There is no humane way to imprison families,” Atkinson told CNA. “The Church is very strong in talking about how we treat newcomers, how we treat imprisoned people.” The federal detention centers opened in 2014 to deal with the influx of around 60,000 migrant families from Central America in the summer and fall months. Many of the migrants were women and children, fleeing violence, death threats, gang recruitment, or rape back home in countries with some of the worst murder rates in the world — Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Many of the children reported being trafficked by smugglers and sexually abused on their journey to the U.S. The detention centers originally had capacity in the hundreds but quickly expanded into the thousands. Atkinson said the total number of detainees is “really fluid” but was at 1,700 at the last estimate, held in three facilities in Berks, Pennsylvania; Dilley, Texas; and Karnes, Texas. U.S. Bishops have spoken out against the detention centers. The chair of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, said the policy is “unnecessary, inhumane, and unworthy of our nation” in a July 27 statement. “There are ways to create a humane system and also ensure that immigrants are complying with the law,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, said in May. “But we have created a detention industry in this country which preys upon the vulnerability of our fellow human beings, the vast majority of whom are not criminals.” On July 24, a federal district court in California had ordered the Obama administration to release detained children in accord with the Flores v. Reno settlement. The children should be released or at least held in the “least restrictive setting,” and their parents should be released from detention with them to prevent the separation of families, the court ruled. “There are humane alternatives to detention which would ensure that families avail themselves of the court process but also are able to access legal and social service assistance,” Bishop Elizondo responded to the decision. What would alternatives to detention centers look like? First, the administration could “just release” migrant mothers and children to families and friends in the U.S., Atkinson said. The migrants could also receive legal help, she added, “so that they understand their rights, they understand their obligations, and they can make a claim for the relief to which we think many are entitled.” As a secondary and “limited” measure, the migrants could be sent to “community-based” centers where they might receive education, legal counsel, therapy, and assistance settling in the community. The U.S. Bishops’ Conference has begun a “community-based” alternative, along with Lutheran churches, she said.
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