Friday, June 26, 2009

How Immigration Detention Harms Women

by Lindsey Daniel, AFSC Policy Intern

Everyday there are more than 33,400 immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in over 500 facilities across the United States according to the Women's Refugee Commission. About 10% of these detainees are women – up 3% from last year.

On Wednesday the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights, Human Rights Watch, the Women’s Refugee Commission, and the American Civil Liberties Union in cooperation with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus hosted a briefing on the treatment of women in immigration detention facilities.

“Had I not experienced a year in immigration detention, I would never have believed that such inhumanity existed,” said Marlene Jaggernauth, a single parent who was separated from her four children.

Although there are mental and physical healthcare standards for detainees, they are hardly ever met. While the standards cover emergency medical needs, they often exclude special needs of women, including gynecological exams, assistance to victims of sexual assault, and pre- and post-natal care.

Kathleen Baldoni, a former nurse at an immigration detention center in Texas, described the healthcare system as “an afterthought for the facility and for ICE. [The] care is task-oriented, not patient-oriented.” Baldoni's employer fired her for speaking at the briefing (Nursing Link). She showed “tremendous courage in coming forward,” said Meghan Rhoad of Human Rights Watch.

Bill Seeks Accountability for Inhumane Detention Conditions

At the briefing, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Congressman Michael Honda (D-CA), and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) all publicly announced their support of a new policy for immigration detention centers. Representative Roybal-Allard described her bill to amend these flaws in ICE detention practices.

The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act (H.R. 1215) will strengthen accountability and oversight of the immigration detention structure by regulating higher standards of care in immigration detention centers in the areas of medical treatment, sexual abuse, the use of force, access to telephones and legal materials, and procedures for detainee grievances.

AFSC is committed to promoting an improved and humane immigration policy for the United States. AFSC’s staff team in Newark, New Jersey provide Know Your Rights presentations in detention centers throughout the state, and provide legal representation and referrals to detained immigrants facing deportation. For more information on AFSC’s policy recommendations on detention click here to read A New Path Toward Humane Immigration Policy.