Immigrants Detained in Texas Aren't Getting the Medical Care They Need, Human Rights Watch Says

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday released a report blasting the government for delaying, withholding and botching medical care for immigrants detained in Florida, Arizona and Texas. In the Lone Star State, the researchers conducted interviews with women held at the Port Isabel detention center in Harlingen, as well as the 2,000-bed detention center in Willacy County.

Focusing specifically on women, the report describes insufficient care during pregnancy and breast cancer, as well as poor access to simple screening procedures such as mammograms and pap smears. Women are apparently often hard-pressed even for access to sanitary napkins.

Meghan Rhoad, a HRW researcher who worked on the report, told Unfair Park about an immigrant who was diabetic and began to go blind while detained at Port Isabel. "They failed to monitor it," Rhoad said. "She wrote request after request and filed grievances. It took 15 days before they attended to something as major as blindness, and she was on the verge of a diabetic coma." The same woman had requested a pap smear and never received one. "Six of eight women we talked to who had been detained for more than a year had not had a pap smear," Rhoad said.

She also mentioned an immigrant held at the Willacy County facility who reported that she was denied a breast pump and "suffered from fever, chills, and intense pain" because she couldn't expel the milk. "That's something we saw in multiple states," Rhoad said. ICE Spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez responded to the report via e-mail. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano "recognizes the importance of ensuring that all ICE detainees receive appropriate medical treatment," she wrote. "In light of her commitment to the safe and humane treatment of all ICE detainees, she has appointed Dr. Dora Schriro to serve as her special advisor on detention and removal." Schriro served as director of the Arizona Department of Corrections in Governor Napolitano's administration and has held a number of correctional positions, including director of the Missouri Department of Corrections and assistant commissioner of the NYC Department of Corrections.

"While ICE spent $128 million in FY 2008 to provide medical and mental health care to its detainees, we recognize that there is a real opportunity for measurable, sustainable improvement," the statement continued. "All ICE detainees, regardless of location, should expect to receive a medical screening within 12 hours of admission; a physical exam within two weeks of detention; timely and appropriate responses to emergency medical requests, and timely medical care appropriate to the anticipated length of detention."

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