Disturbing stories are surfacing about the experiences of female immigrants in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention centers. Even though most of them have no previous criminal histories, they are treated as if they did. A quote from the new Human Rights Watch report illustrates this:
Medical care that is provided to us is very minimal and general….If you do not speak English, you cannot fuss, the only thing you can do is go to bed & suffer….We have no privacy when our health record is being discussed….When we’ve complained to the nurses, we get ridiculed with replies like: “You should have made better choices…ICE is not here to make you feel comfortable…our hands are [tied]…Well, we can’t do much you’re getting deported anyway…learn English before you cross the border…Mi casa no es su casa.”….Our living situation is degrading and inhuman.
In regards to reproductive health services in particular, women in detention fare worse than inmates at any of the institutions run by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
ICE’s policy on abortion is markedly different than that of its sister organization, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which requires that each pregnant inmate receive counseling to help her decide “whether to carry the pregnancy to full term or to have an elective abortion,” according to federal regulations. If a detainee asks for an abortion, the prison’s clinical director “shall arrange for an abortion to take place.
For detainees at ICE facilities abortions are only provided and paid for if the life of the mother is in jeopardy. Although legally women at ICE facilities have the right to access an outside provider who could perform the abortion, generally inmates are not informed of this right. Even if they elect to have the procedure they would have to cover the expenses with their own funds, yet another barrier to access these services.
The denial of access to abortion procedures is a humanitarian issue and a violation of women’s human rights. The case is especially tragic in when the pregnancy is a result of rape, which is the case for many inmates in ICE detention centers due to the dangers women are exposed to when crossing the border illegally. This denial neglects the imperative to uphold women’s dignity as well as to respect their bodies and their lives. Immigration status should not be used as a condemning verdict that robs them of their right to be treated the same as an American citizen.
Contributed by Bibiana Martinez, Community Mobilization Intern