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Immigrant prison in Texas making kids sick, Human Rights group calls for end to family detention

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In a blog published on November 22, Human Rights First reported prevalent medical neglect in South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas operated by private prison corporation CoreCivic. The blog highlights the multiple medical issues that children and their parents experience with minimal access to services while in detention, as well as long-term health consequences to their incarceration.

Eleni Bakst spent a week visiting children and speaking with their parents in Dilley. “I learned that many of these children were also vomiting and experiencing diarrhea multiple times per day, had high fevers, and conjunctivitis,” she wrote. “Others had developed rashes as a result of drinking the tap water, which has reportedly been contaminated due to fracking in the area. Many local residents and visitors do not drink it.”

Bakst reported numerous women’s complaints about the negligent medical care in detention, including doctors “prescribing water instead of medicine” and “illogical and incorrect diagnoses” when patients came with illnesses. Women also reported their fear to report a complaint about the insufficient care in fear of negative consequences for their legal cases.

Bakst reported one story that exemplifies the unreasonable responses of medical professionals in detention:

“One mother told me her four-year-old daughter had lost eight pounds in detention over the last two to three weeks as a result of persistent vomiting and diarrhea, combined with high fever, rashes, and coughing. The clinician at the detention center diagnosed her vomiting as bulimia, claiming that this was common among young children at the center who are not accustomed to eating the type of food they provided. This girl’s mother, understandably taken aback by this diagnosis, did not return to the clinic, knowing that it would be futile.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a letter to the former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson in 2015 stating that family detention of mothers and children “puts them at greater risk for physical and mental health problems and unnecessarily exposes children and mothers to additional psychological trauma.”

The recent actions of the Trump administration to terminate the Flores Settlement could open up the potential for long-term detention of families, making medical issues “more concerning than ever” from the conditions reported by Human Rights First.

Building on research from previous years, the report issued by Human Rights First in November 2015, “Family Detention Still Happening, Still Damaging,” features research on the experiences of women and children in detention. Their investigation highlighted the stories of 30 women in South Texas Family Residential Center detained with their families: “All of these mothers reported some combination of troubling symptoms, including high levels of hypervigilance, sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, and insomnia. A majority presented with symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder, and Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia).”

Advocates have denounced family detention as an inhumane practice that profits from the violation of families’ rights. In Texas, a long legislative battle of 2016 led to advocates preventing the licensing of family detention centers as child care facilities. They have been criticized for violating federal law by holding families too long, among a number of other failures to provide adequate education, health care, and legal services.

For further information on medical neglect in South Texas Family Residential Center impacting pregnant women, see our blog from October 2017: “Pregnant Women Seeking Asylum Detained, Women Miscarried in ICE Facilities” and more Texas Prison Bid’ness coverage of Dilley.

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