Latinas Fight Restrictions on Women’s Health in Immigration Detention Centers

by Gwen Berumen

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) released a public statement earlier this week on the inclusion of a provision (the Aderholt Amendment) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Act. The act, which passed by a vote of 29-18 in the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, specifically targets women in detention by attacking their right to reproductive health care. The NLIRH along with 65 other national, state, and local organizations condemn the provision on the grounds that they stand to “represent, advocate for, or support the health, rights, and justice for immigrant women, migrant women, refugee women, and their families.”

This amendment is especially harmful because it calls for unwarranted and draconian restrictions on immigrant women in regards to abortion by prohibiting federal funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to provide reproductive care for women in ICE detention centers.

Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of NLIRH responded with the following: 

“Once again, immigrant women are being targeted with cruel attacks and bad policy. Between the House’s failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform and the Obama Administration’s decision to delay review of deportation policies, there are a record number of immigrant women being detained. Today’s decision denies these women access to critical reproductive healthcare services, which will have a profound impact on many Latinas and their families.”

Bad policy runs vapid when dealing with immigrants – particularly with immigrant women. Past ICE efforts such as “Operation Endgame” and the overlooking of the rampant sexual abuse in detention centers casts a very dark shadow over these women. At the federal level, many refuse to see these women as human beings with lives and families; the agency of migrant women, whose wellbeing depends almost solely on the state, is greatly reduced.

These women, like others who depend on federally funded providers and insurance plans, are already denied access to coverage for abortion care under the restrictive and harmful terms of the Hyde Amendment and other bans on abortion coverage.

González-Rojas adds: 

“This provision strikes at a population of women who already face substandard conditions, are shackled during childbirth, and endure an epidemic of sexual assault in federal custody. Women in detention are already vulnerable, and this provision would add another layer of injustice to an already tragic situation. This is yet another example of political interference with healthcare and personal decisions, one that targets women who are already facing incredibly difficult circumstances.”

Women in detention already suffer from healthcare issues such an understaffed medical unit with few Spanish-speaking employees. There are also unreasonable delays in receiving care, treatment of mental disabilities is punitive rather than care oriented, and there is a heavy abuse of power. Detained women are not given proper access to water, toilet paper, or even menstrual products such as pads and tampons. The Aderholt Amendment further restricts the basic rights that these women as human beings, regardless of citizenship, are owed.

Pregnancy is another issue in which detained women, forced to give birth in inhuman conditions, suffer. “Because one half of all ICE detainees are held in county jails…pregnant prisoners may be shackled, and sometimes even forced to give birth while shackled, depending on the state: Though 18 states have enacted laws prohibiting or restricting shackling of pregnant prisoners, the other 32 states have no laws protecting women from these practices.”

While this issue affects a very specific subset of the population, this subset is rapidly increasing. As of 2010, a migrant population of about 400,000 was held in detention. That number has most likely risen since then, meaning that even more women are now living under these conditions. In addition, thanks to the expansion of the immigration detention system, those involved in operating county and city jails have profited from detention centers. The ICE contracts out their facilities, making it so that by 2011, private prison companies housed more than half of immigration detainees. This means that these particular centers have more freedom to do what they want (which is usually incentivized by profit). This also means that there has been a call for detention quotas for centers; the centers are incentivized to detain many individuals for a short period of time before turning them over to ICE custody.

Even if it were only a small part of the population, this would be a huge problem. But, given that the number is increasing daily, we must garner attention to this very serious human rights violation. It doesn’t just stop at poor conditions – as these women are losing health benefits each day.

The NLIRH concludes their statement by saying that “Despite the vote’s outcome, we are very grateful to Representatives Nita Lowey (NY-17), Barbara Lee (CA-13), David Price (NC-04), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) who stood up for immigrant women and access to healthcare by speaking out against the measure.”

They also have also sent a letter to the U.S. House Committee of Appropriations. View it here.  


Photo via, latina institute, 

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