Documenting Obstacles to Medical Care for Women in Detention

Two new reports issued by Human Rights Watch and the Florida
Immigrant Advocacy Center

document numerous barriers encountered by women when they try to obtain
needed medical care in the confines of the immigration detention system.
Human Rights Watch investigated facilities run by Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) itself, as well as privately-run facilities and state
and local prisons and jails where immigration detainees are held by
contract with ICE. Women report a wide range of problems, from delayed
medical care and denied medical screenings to inadequate sanitary supplies
when they have their periods. 

The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center
investigated ICE-run facilities in Florida as well as jails that contract
with ICE. The Center reaches many of the same conclusions about the
problems women face and the underlying reasons for inadequate medical
care, including lax oversight. The Center dedicates its report to those
who have lost their lives and health in immigration detention, including
81 year-old Rev. Joseph Dantica, whose death while seeking asylum in
Miami is hauntingly recounted by his niece, the writer Edwidge Danticat. 

The findings in these reports resonate
with other investigations into the failures of medical systems in prison
settings, but in the case of women detained on immigration charges,
there may be even more complications; ICE often sends people far from
the home community where they were arrested, including to locations
where there are few people who speak their native language. In addition,
since the Bush Administration moved immigration detention from the Department
of Justice to the newly created Department of Homeland Security, it
has been even more difficult to track people’s whereabouts and to
monitor conditions. 

As the Human Rights Watch report notes,
immigration detention has grown rapidly over the past 10 years – thanks
to changes in federal law in the 1990s and to priorities established
by the Bush Administration. These reports highlight what those trends
mean for women, adding to a number of recent exposes of inadequate medical care and suspicious deaths
of people detained by ICE. It may give new impetus to "The Detainee
Basic Medical Care Act of 2008" introduced by Senator Robert Menendez
(D-NJ) and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). 

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  • invalid-0

    You have made a lot of really good points regarding the healthcare for women in detention. People are not being properly taken care of and are looked at like as though they are not human.

  • rachel-roth

    Thanks for your comment. I think you are exactly right — when people are regarded as different or "other," then it is easier to treat them in ways that no one would want to be treated herself. Reports like the two just released put a human face on the people being detained, so that the need for medical care isn’t just an abstraction.

  • invalid-0

    The scariest part about this story is that it’s so underground, particularly in today’s economy. In other words, people think who cares about “others” when I can’t even feed my own family?

  • invalid-0

    Hi Rachel,

    I’m a law student at the University of Denver and am researching reproductive rights for women in prison for a reproductive rights seminar. My professor, Nancy Ehrenreich, published some of your work in the book she edited, A Reproductive Rights Reader. I would be very interested to talk with you about the work and research you’ve done surrounding reproductive rights, but I can’t find your contact info anywhere! Please let me know if you’d be willing to share some of your wealth of knowledge with me!

    Thank you very much!

    Lisi Owen