March 26, 2009

Unjust Punishment for Immigration Detainees

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With an ever-growing rate of immigrants entering the United States, detention centers are quickly filling up. Last year, more than 300,000 people were held for administrative purposes, rather than for punitive or criminal reasons. Under international law, all detainees are eligible for healthcare and must receive necessary medical care to ensure an individual’s life is not at risk. While required, the majority of detainees receive little if any medical care. In considering that some have died because of this maltreatment, the neglect may have an underlying motive to discourage immigration.

Based on a report from the Human Rights Watch, the length of the detention can be as little as 38 days or greater than three years. This has created life-threatening situations for mothers and those with significant health problems that require constant medical attention. For instance, “women described struggling to obtain potentially life-saving services such as Pap smears to detect cervical cancer, mammograms to check for breast cancer, pre-natal care, counseling for survivors of violence, and even basic supplies such as sanitary pads or breast pumps for nursing mothers”.

According to Cheryl Little of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, “death rates in detention appear to be worsening”. “ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] needlessly detains people with severe illnesses and those who pose no harm to US communities. Doing so drives up ICE costs even as the agency provides increasingly inadequate medical and mental health care to those in its custody”. Miguel Cardona offers an example of the suffering many experience while in detention. He suffered a ruptured appendix and nearly died when the pain became unbearable. “At the clinic, I could no longer speak, only cry. A nurse told me she was sorry, but that the doctor had resigned so there was no doctor. I sat in a chair and clutched my stomach. … I thought I was going to die” said Mr. Cardona. This is unacceptable for people who pose no risk to our country who simply want to find a better life.

While facilities have minimal staff and inadequate funding, this fails to justify the poor treatment of immigrant detainees. In recent months, many politicians have taken notice of this issue. Representative Zoe Lofgren put forth a bill called the “Detainee Basic Medical Care Act” which would bring significant healthcare improvements to all current and future detainees. However, the legislation is still being debated in Congress.

Americans are given the right to pursue happiness, but those of some countries are denied this opportunity. Consequently, they immigrate to the US in search of asylum. In subjecting immigrants to cruel treatment, our country is violating the rights of all human beings. Should everyone, including immigrants have the opportunity to live a better life that is free from injustice and maltreatment?

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