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Bianey Reyes and others protest the separation of children from their parents in front of the El Paso Processing Center, an immigration detention facility, at the Mexican border on June 19, 2018 in El Paso, Texas. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Doctors Demand Trump Close 'Inherently Immoral' Immigrant Detention Centers Ahead of Mass Protest on Capitol Hill

"We are here to say that it is not enough to ask to improve the conditions in the detention centers. We must demand that they be closed altogether."

Julia Conley

Doctors on Monday called on President Donald Trump to close the hundreds of detention centers across the countrywhere tens of thousands of immigrants are currently being held, many for months on end.

In an op-ed at The Hill, Drs. Katherine McKenzie, Kate Sugarman, and Ranit Mishori decried the deaths of more than 30 immigrants in U.S. custody under the Trump administration—including at least seven children since last year—as well as reports of abuse and neglect in the detention centers:

Asylum seekers should not be forced to stay in detention centers or camps while awaiting adjudication of their claims. News reports and other testimonies have documented substandard and even terrible conditions: no running water, no soap, no beds, inedible food. Medications have been taken away from those who need them; outbreaks have occurred and the government has decided not to provide vaccines. This is unacceptable.

Many advocates have rightfully been fighting to change these conditions.  But we are here to say that it is not enough to ask to improve the conditions in the detention centers. We must demand that they be closed altogether, because they are inherently immoral and should not be there in the first place.

The authors, who have provided medical care to many asylum seekers, warned that detaining people and separating families as a punishment for crossing U.S. borders—especially after they have escaped violence and unsafe conditions in their home countries—can have a profound negative impact on refugees' mental and physical health.

The medical community has spoken out against Trump's treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers a number of times, especially after the president introduced his "zero tolerance" policy in 2018. The American Medical Association told Congress over the summer that the detention centers being run by the Trump administration—where immigrants are frequently kept in cold rooms, forced to sleep in overcrowded conditions with some sleeping on the floor or in bathrooms, and are denied access to nutritious food and basic hygiene products—"are simply not appropriate places for children or for pregnant women."

"We will demand that the administration's shameful and devastating policies be changed and that detention camps be closed permanently. Nothing short of that is enough."
—Drs. Katherine McKenzie, Kate Sugarman, and Ranit Mishori

McKenzie, Sugarman, and Mishori are among thousands of medical professionals from across the country who plan to rally on the National Mall on Saturday.

"Next Saturday we, along with other physicians, health professionals, and medical students from around the country, will gather and speak on behalf of all those who care about the welfare of children and the inhumane treatment of those legally seeking refuge in the U.S.," wrote the doctors. "We will demand that the administration's shameful and devastating policies be changed and that detention camps be closed permanently. Nothing short of that is enough."

Trump's anti-immigration agenda has been denounced by several federal courts in recent weeks, with judges blocking the president's attempts to declare a national emergency at the southern U.S. border and to deny low-income immigrants green cards or visas if they need government assistance. Last month, a federal court also rejected Trump's proposed rule allowing indefinite detention for immigrant children.

The proposed regulations struck "a mortal blow to crucial rights and protections that the settlement confers on vulnerable children," the court ruled.

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