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Human Rights Abuses in Immigrant Detainment Centers In The Trump Era

President Donald Trump issued an executive order in January 2017 instructing immigration officers to detain and arrest any and all undocumented immigrants in the United States. This order has had far-reaching and disastrous effects for many people, and as detention centers across the country begin to fill with individuals who would not have been arrested under previous administrations, it is time to take a look at the way these detention centers are run and the detainee abuse that results.

As a result of Trump’s executive order, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, more commonly known as “ICE,” has changed its guidelines for processing and managing pregnant detainees, also changing that pregnant detainees will no longer be automatically released. Pregnant women are already being shipped to these centers en masse, and seeing as the number of women held in these centers is likely to increase exponentially in these coming months, being aware of the risks that these women face is crucial, along with understanding what needs to change in order to ensure that pregnancy problems and medical catastrophes do not become a standard issue in U.S. detention centers.

Immigrant Detention Centers Poor Safety Records

The detention centers where undocumented immigrants are held have atrocious track records when it comes to the health and safety of those housed there, with a troubling number of detainees reporting medical care being withheld, as well as abuse at the hands of guards and other detention center employees. As is the case with many prisons and detention centers in the United States, many of these compounds are run by private companies, and as the number of privatized centers has increased, so have the reports of abuse and malicious human rights violations.

Interview With Clinical Psychologist Monica Posada of Puentes de Salud

Monica Posada, a clinical psychologist working with Philadelphia’s immigrant community at nonprofit wellness center Puentes de Salud, was interviewed for this article, and detailed the many adverse effects that detainment can have on expecting mothers and their unborn children.

“The stress that these women are subjected to can trigger physical and psychological illnesses that not only affect their pregnancies but also the development of their baby. In some cases, this stress can even cause abortions and miscarriages. Due to this, pregnant women have the right to live in a state of liberty and well-being during throughout the course of their pregnancy,” Posada said.

Inmates in these detention centers are often denied medical attention even after they beg for help. Many of these individuals die from easily treatable medical conditions simply as a result of being denied the bare minimum medical care needed.

The Preventable Death of Pablo Gracida-Conte

Take, for example, the death of Pablo Gracida-Conte, who died while housed at Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, Arizona due to complications from cardiomyopathy, an easily treatable heart ailment.

Despite frequent and desperate requests for medical attention, Gracida was denied assistance until his condition became impossible for wardens to ignore, and he was transferred to the Casa Grande Regional Medical Center, where doctors recommended his immediate transfer of care to the University of Tucson Medical Center. However, at this point, it was far too late for Gracida, and he passed away two days after he was finally admitted to the University of Tucson Medical Center. This was the 10th death to occur at Eloy since it opened in 1998, and despite the tragic deaths of these individuals, Eloy still does not have a doctor on staff.

Immigrant Detention Centers & Mental Health

The physical threat to detainees in these centers is obvious, but the psychological damage that can be inflicted in these environments can lead to a host of mental health issues long after an individual is released from the detainment center.

“Being placed in high-stress situations and environments such as a detainment center can have severe effects on a cognitive level, with individuals experiencing excessive worry and difficulty concentrating, among other problems. On a behavioral level these problems can manifest as difficulty in making decisions, defensive actions, and aggressive behavior. If these symptoms are not dealt with properly, they can develop into more severe forms of mental disorder such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” according to Posada.

Pregnant and Detained

Expecting mothers must be in top mental and physical shape in order to adequately care for themselves and their children, and if pregnant undocumented immigrants are detained, it should be in an environment where these specific needs are being taken into consideration.

This issue extends beyond the lives of those detained in these centers, and spills over into the lives of children yet to be born, whose scared mothers anxiously await release from government detention centers. Scars left as a result of prolonged stays in detention centers do not heal easily, and the negative repercussions those experiences bring travel with individuals long after they have been released.

Pregnant women are particularly at risk and need to be protected.

In Posada’s opinion, “For humanitarian reasons, pregnant women should be protected in order to avoid situations that could result in miscarriage or premature birth and cause depressive or anxious mental states.”

This is a clear-cut human rights issue, and both ICE and Trump’s administration must take steps to ensure that all detained immigrants are getting the physical and mental healthcare they need and deserve, especially if these immigrants are pregnant women.


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