Friday, March 20, 2009

Health Care Denied: Immigrant Women in Detention

Horror stories about detained immigrant womens' access to reproductive health care have been bubbling to the surface of late. I've been blogging about these rights violations since the birth of our blog (here, here, and here), and most recently discussed the mistreatment of Juana Villegas, a pregnant undocumented immigrant who, arrested for driving without a license, went into labor in jail. She was cuffed by her foot to the bed until the final stages of labor, prohibited from seeing her husband during childbirth, shackled six hours after giving birth, and sent back to jail two days later without her newborn child.
Last month, the Texas Observer ran an excellent piece of investigative journalism detailing the harrowing stories of women detained after crossing the border into the United States. Many of these women are raped during their journey -- by coyotes, border bandits, and even border patrol agents -- but if they are unlucky enough to be caught by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), they are not told of their rights or their access to abortion providers. In 2008, nearly 10% of women in ICE custody (approximately 1000 women) were pregnant; not one woman in ICE custody in FY 2008 and 2009 has yet had an abortion. The policy of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, in contrast, is to provide abortion counseling to pregnant women and to arrange for an abortion for any woman who requests one (at Bureau expense if the pregnancy resulted from rape).
In a related story earlier this month, the Coalition of Latino Leaders set in motion "Operation Panty," to provide underwear to detained immigrant women in Georgia, who are issued with a uniform but no underwear. Those lucky enough to have the money are able to purchase only boxer shorts, which are particularly ineffective at certain times of the month; the unlucky wear the same underwear for days or weeks until they are deported.
This week, Human Rights Watch released a long report detailing similar stories of women denied access to medically indicated Pap smears, mammograms, and hormonal contraceptives to regulate menstruation; of nursing mothers denied breast pumps who developed mastitis; and of menstruating women so desperate for sanitary pads that one sat on a toilet for hours. HRW analyzes the myriad violations of international human rights treaties -- the right to health in the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights, the right to access to healthcare in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the right to humanity and dignity found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It shouldn't take a lawyer to point out that the denial of basic reproductive health care, particularly to survivors of sexual abuse, is a violation of fundamental human rights. Here's hoping that the new administration moves to address this pressing problem in an urgent fashion.

No comments: