Life and Death Medical Decisions: Immigrants and All of Us

Cruelty Is Not a Family Value

From photo by Fibonacci Blue, published under Creative Commons license.

Cancellation of deferred action for immigrants receiving treatment for serious medical conditions is only the latest manifestation of the Trump administration’s total lack of compassion and medical maltreatment of immigrants. They have also confiscated prescription meds carried by asylum seekers and refused to return them, used “contagious disease” as an excuse for removing children from their parents’ custody, told menstruating women and girls that they are limited to a single pad per day and no showers, tolerated unhealthy conditions that resulted in a mumps epidemic, and are now refusing to give flu vaccinations despite repeated medical warnings that the crowded and unsanitary conditions in detention will lead to flu outbreaks that may spread to the rest of the country as well.

Last week, immigrants affected by the cancellation of deferred action testified before Congress.

“Maria Isabel Bueso, 24, of Guatemala, speaking before a congressional hearing on Wednesday. She came to the United States when she was 7 to participate in a clinical trial for a drug to treat an enzyme disease….

“If I’m sent back, I will die,” she told lawmakers. …

“I have clients with sick children now who need access to the program but can’t apply,” said Anthony Marino, an immigration lawyer who represents children receiving treatment for cancer, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy….

“Jonathan Sanchez, a 16-year-old Honduran, said that his older sister, the first born, had died of cystic fibrosis when she was 6 months old. When he was 12, his parents came to America legally to seek better care for him…”

The Trump administration cancelled the 33-day deportation notices sent to Maria Bueso and others, but continues trying to end the program.

Immigrants in detention face serious threats to life and health.

José and his three daughters made the long trek from Honduras to the United States in November. When he reached the border with his three daughters, he was separated from them and put in immigration detention. Then the Border Patrol took away his medications.

“He explained to WNYC that he kept asking for his pills while in detention but didn’t receive them for two months. He said he was never hospitalized but was examined by a doctor….

“To José’s daughters, the family separation was incredibly painful. Their mother died of complications from HIV six years earlier. The girls are all healthy.”

José has since been deported, while his daughters remain in the United States in the care of their grandmother.

José’s story exemplifies two of the problems with U.S. immigration authorities and health care. First, his children were taken away from him because he has HIV, even though he is their sole surviving parent, even though he has been caring for them, even though he remains healthy so long as he takes his medicine. Family separations like this continue to happen at the border, whether based on “communicable disease” as in José’s case or on “criminal records,” including traffic tickets.

Second, immigration officials took away the medication he needs to live and did not return it.  U.S. doctors recountmany other cases of Border Patrol confiscation of life-saving medications, including medication to control high blood pressure, diabetes medication, asthma medication, and medication to control seizures.

Official government reports attest to unsanitary conditions inside detention centers. Denial of sanitary products to menstruating women and girls has become public with the ACLU filing of a lawsuit:

“Another girl was detained for ten days and never offered a shower, even though she was on her period and was given only one sanitary pad a day. After a number of days, she summoned her courage and asked for a shower, and was given one. She recalls there was another girl at the facility who was also on her period. They were each given one sanitary pad per day. Although the guards knew they had their periods, they were not offered showers or a change of clothes, even when the other girl visibly bled through her pants. This girl had no choice but to continue to wear her soiled underwear and pants.”

Besides medical neglect and deprivation of medications, detention centers offer a perfect milieu for epidemics of contagious diseases. Mumps has already spread through detention facilities:

The report, released Thursday, says that there have been 931 cases of mumps in a total of 57 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities in 19 states in the last year. The cases have affected both detainees and staff.

“These detention centers are a perfect storm for mumps to spread. Individuals have to be within 3-6 feet of each other to spread this virus. Sneezing, coughing on someone, or sharing a drink can spread the virus.” Dr. Todd Ellerin, Director of Infectious Diseases and Vice Chair of Medicine at Southshore Health in Massachusetts, told ABC News.”

As the flu season approaches, worse may be coming:

“While annual flu seasons vary in severity, the contagious virus still reliably sickens millions of people worldwide each year and causes up to 650,000 deaths. Every possible precaution should be taken to guard against it. Unfortunately, it appears that the nation’s immigration officials are abdicating their growing role in the public health crusade against the flu — a dereliction of duty that requires immediate remedy.

Members of Congress and medical experts from some of the nation’s most prestigious academic centers this month began sounding the alarm about the rising threat of infectious diseases, particularly influenza, in detention centers holding those who have crossed the southern U.S. border. The facilities’ “poor conditions” may amplify influenza’s spread, said experts from Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins University in an Aug. 1 letter to Congress. They strongly urged vaccinating all detained children older than six months against the flu.

“But it appears the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has no plans to vaccinate those in custody….

“It is plainly prudent to wield an inexpensive, readily available tool — the flu vaccine — to prevent outbreaks at detention centers. Doing so is vital to the health of all Americans.”


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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