A group of mothers fleeing violence in Central America have filed court papers alleging mistreatment — including “psychological and physical harm” — at family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania.
Claimants in the 60-page filing, all from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador, include a woman who said she received poor care for an injured ear because she could not speak to the medical staff in her indigenous language. Another said her children were among 250 kids given an erroneously high dose of a hepatitis A vaccine, despite their having proof of previous vaccination. A mother and daughter fleeing gang violence and held for more than six months were both diagnosed by a psychologist with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression exacerbated by their long detention.
A Honduran mother reported that her 8-year-old daughter attempted to breast-feed again, and another woman and her son said they had languished in detention for 28 days after having passed their credible fear interview, the first legal hurdle for asylum. When the same woman sought treatment for her broken fingers and wrist, she was allegedly told to “drink more water” by medical staff and her son was rushed to the hospital after “a virus apparently had gone untreated for a dangerously long time,” according to the court papers.
An ICE spokeswoman “refused to comment on the pending litigation as a matter of policy,” but said:
…the agency ensures that the centers operate in an “open environment” and are “an effective and humane alternative for maintaining family unity as families go through immigration proceedings or await return to their home countries.” The facilities provide access to play areas, educational services, medical care and legal help, she said. ICE officials have also said that it was necessary to detain families to ensure they didn’t vanish.
The filing from the mothers comes follows on the heels of a historic court decision from U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, who ruled last month that holding mothers and their children in detention facilities violates a 1997 court settlement.
In the days following Judge Gee’s decision, leading House Democrats — including Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Judy Chu, and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard — held a forum on ending the Obama Administration’s harmful family detention policy.
The forum featured two mothers and a social worker once employed at the Karnes facility in Texas, who testified about the “abusive” treatment of women and their children at the hands of facility staff:
“What I saw during my time at Karnes made clear that the effects of family detention have the potential to negatively impact the level of functioning of these individuals for generations to come,” Olivia López, a social worker who resigned from the Texas facility in April, told the panel of House members.
“The practices and procedures I witnessed are abusive and create a situation where families cannot feel safe, exacerbate levels of anxiety, increase depression, and can lead to suicidal ideation and attempts.”
In June, a group of House Democrats also penned a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, saying the “strong evidence that such detention is detrimental to mothers and children and is not reflective of our Nation’s values,” and that now “is long past time to end family detention.”
“We expect this will be the first in a large set of filings on the mistreatment of these women and children on behalf of the government,” said an attorney for the five mothers named in the court documents.
“By bearing witness and helping these women assert these claims, we are undermining the government’s narrative that this is a kindler gentler, detention policy.”