For Immediate Release
US: Immigration Policy Harms Women, Families
Briefing to Congress Details Inadequate Medical Care in Detention, Separation from Family
WASHINGTON - The US government should reform immigration enforcement policies
that inflict needless suffering on immigrant women and their families,
rights advocates said today. A former immigration detention center
nurse, a former detainee, and a group of leading human rights advocacy
and research groups will testify to Congress at a Capitol Hill briefing
on June 24, 2009.
Immigration detention is the fastest growing form of incarceration
in the United States. On any given day, US Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) holds 33,000 immigrants in detention, about 10
percent of them women. Detainees include asylum seekers, victims of
trafficking, survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence,
pregnant women, and mothers of children who are US citizens.
"The vast majority of women I interviewed posed no security threat
or flight risk," said Nina Rabin, director of border research at the
Southwest Institute for Research on Women and director of the Bacon
Immigration Law and Policy Program at Rogers College of Law at the
University of Arizona. "One of the most effective ways to deal with
immigration enforcement is simply not to detain so many people and
instead use a wide range of alternatives."
The hosts for today's briefing are: the National Coalition for
Immigrant Women's Rights; American Civil Liberties Union; Human Rights
Watch; Legal Momentum; National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum;
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; and the Women's
The briefing will be held in cooperation with the Congressional
Hispanic Caucus; the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus; and
the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Kathleen Baldoni, who worked as a nurse at Willacy Detention
Center, the largest immigration detention center in the country, said
that women there often are subjected to extreme temperatures,
inadequate nutrition, medical staffing shortages and long delays for
critically needed health care.
"I was prevented from providing the level of care ethically required
of me as a health care provider," said Baldoni. "Nursing and medical
staff are genuinely caring people who want to do the best for their
patients, but we are often hampered by the system. Not only are the
detainees in danger, but also the medical staff, who face liability
issues, are as well."
A March 2009 report
by Human Rights Watch found that while current standards allow for
emergency medical care and treatment for detained immigrants, they are
insufficient to cover women's unique physical, social, emotional, and
health care needs. These include gynecological exams, pre- and
post-natal care, and treatment for those who have been victims of
sexual assault and domestic violence.
"It is appalling that ICE does not provide women in its custody with
enough sanitary pads to keep from bleeding through their clothes, to
say nothing of sufficient Pap smears, mammograms, and the other most
basic elements of women's health care," said Meghan Rhoad, researcher
in the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. "It is bad enough
that these women are locked up. The least the government can do is to
give them decent care."
Emily Butera, program officer at the Women's Refugee Commission,
said that ICE's focus on emergency care and keeping detainees medically
ready for deportation is misplaced. "ICE needs to take into account the
pressing humanitarian needs of individuals not held on criminal
charges," she said. "In addition to poor conditions in detention
facilities, our immigration and enforcement policies are needlessly
endangering the well-being of vulnerable people and tearing apart
In fact, the advocates point out, women are being separated from
their children, permanently in many cases, at great cost to society. In
some cases, mothers are detained and taken to detention facilities
hundreds of miles away without being given the opportunity to make the
most basic arrangements for the care of their children. While in
detention they are denied access to telephones and the legal materials
necessary to locate their children and communicate with family courts
to preserve their parental rights.
"ICE took me from my home while my children watched in fear," said
Marlene Jaggernauth, a single parent who was separated from her four
children, all of them US citizens, and who will speak at today's event.
"Had I not experienced a year in immigration detention, I would never
have believed that such inhumanity existed."
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.