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Weekly Immigration Wire: 'Systematic failures' in U.S. detention healthcare

by Nezua TMC MediaWire Blogger

This week, two comprehensive reports on the health of immigrant detainees were released by Human Rights Watch and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. As Public News Service reports, "Immigrants are, literally, dying for decent care."

There have been many cases of inadequate medical treatment or neglect leading to death in U.S. detention centers. The cases are horrific—ranging from an ignored broken spine to deadly metastasized genital cancer—and must stop immediately. But, a thorough accounting of the realities of detention is needed if the United States can engage in an honest dialogue about immigration policy.

RaceWire doesn't shrink from offering an incisive analysis in Health in Detention. Michelle Chen writes that "Part of the problem is that the mission of ICE’s Division of Immigration Health Services isn’t really to ensure that all detainees receive the care they need, but rather, to keep people essentially well enough to be kicked out of the country before they die." Chen adds that in some cases, that low bar isn't met.

There are many causes. After 9/11, the U.S. stopped aiming for a "more perfect union" of its diverse population. The Bush administration responded (starting in Florida) to the immigrant community with suspicion and force. And so it has continued, ultimately leading to the conditions outlined in this week's reports. The poor treatment of immigrants in U.S. custody reveals a very ugly side of the country, but it's hardly a new side. AlterNet's Lynn Tramonte offers a scathing indictment of how dangerous Agreement 287(g), which recruits local police to enforce immigration law, has become to communities.

The stalemate on immigration reform is sometimes portrayed as a disagreement over "safety" and "security" and "jobs." But, in many cases, it's a disguised resistance to the always-changing face of America. It's an old game of Tug-of-War. Wiretap reminds us how long this culture battle has been going on . It recalls eerily familiar past attitudes.

We don't know why the human race has such a short memory when it comes to cyclical xenophobia. It's confounding, especially in the U.S.: How can we be so proud of our own families' immigrant roots, but not wish that happiness for others? If a mother, daughter, or sister is called "immigrant"—in the U.S. or the Middle East—she's suddenly worth less.

Going back to the aforementioned Public News Service article: According to Human Rights Watch researcher Meghan Rhoad, "the detention system routinely subjects women to suffering and humiliation. It is a system that needlessly shackles pregnant women with no criminal background, that ignores requests for care, and does all of this with impunity."

But confront ICE officials, even their spokesperson, with the many documented cases of medical neglect or human rights abuses, and reporters will be given the standard statement that the agency is "committed to humane and safe treatment of detainees." The inadequacy of the answer mirrors their effectiveness.

Speaking of inadequate approaches, we now turn to the investigation into Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). On March 12, RaceWire reported on the positive reaction to the investigation from local activists and community groups in Arizona. Click through to see photos of Members of Maricopa Citizen for Safety and Accountability (MCSA) delivering the Sheriff numerous "pink slips" or see letters the DOJ delivered to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office on March 10.

In other immigration news, The Texas Observer reports on non-profit consumer advocate group Public Citizen's suit against DHS on behalf of Denise Gilman. Their efforts are helping shed some light on the construction of a border fence.

It also appears that Speaker Pelosi was actually forecasting a change in immigration policy last week. Yesterday at a town hall meeting in California, President Obama met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and announced his intention to move forward "possibly within the next two months" with the unveiling of a legislative package that will address immigration reform.

Some have expressed concern that President Obama is taking on too much at once. But all of these things, the economy and immigration and healthcare, are intertwined. For example, the growing detention center industry will continue to take the place of productive workers and damage a healthy economy.

It is in our nation's best interest to veer sharply away from the path that George W. Bush set us upon. Obama's announcement yesterday is exciting news, considering how long the nation's immigration laws have languished and how many humans have suffered because of them. The change that President Obama promised the nation seems to be coming for one and all.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration. Visit Immigration.NewsLadder.net for a complete list of articles on immigration, or follow us on Twitter.


And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy and health issues, check out Economy.NewsLadder.net and Healthcare.NewsLadder.net.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.

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