The agency relocated over 700 women, some with deadly illnesses, to remote centers where they may not have access to medical care or legal counsel.
On September 20, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) moved over 700 women from Karnes County Residential Center, an ICE detention center in Texas, to various, unidentifiable locations around the country in order to make space for more families at Karnes. The women's lawyers, part of the organization Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), have claimed that their clients' whereabouts are untraceable via the division's online detainee tracking system. Many of the women struggle with serious deadly illnesses and without adequate medical care, could essentially be left for dead. Meanwhile, they risk losing court cases if their lawyers are unable to get in touch with them, The Huffington Post reports.
According to Andrea Meza, the director of family detention services at RAICES, the women could face "fatal consequences" if their health continues to diminish. She stated, "I’m really fearful that their conditions could worsen. I don’t want them to be in another ICE press release about death in detention." The situation has thus brought to light a crucial flaw within the immigration system: Detainees, with little to no notice, can be shifted at any time, leaving them with no ways to get in touch with their legal counsel and without adequate medical care.
This is mainly due to ICE's "notoriously faulty" online system, the ICE Detainee Locator. Locations are rarely updated promptly (if at all) and serious health concerns are not duly reported. The former is especially problematic as detainees could be moved to desolate areas where they may have no recourse for legal representation. While ICE is not mandated by law to inform lawyers when their clients are being shifted to different detention centers, information about their relocation is supposed to be made accessible through the agency’s online portal within an estimated 24 hours of a detainee's relocation - which is simply not happening. Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, a Texas-based immigration attorney, said, “I think FedEx does a better job of tracking its packages than ICE does of tracking the people it detains." Because immigrants are five and a half times more likely to not be deported if they have legal assistance, it would not be wrong to suggest that there could be foul play at hand here.
Even more dangerously, some of the women who have recently been transferred have been diagnosed with serious medical conditions, which, if left untreated, could prove fatal. It has become a known fact that ICE and its detention centers are ill-equipped to provide the medical care required by many of the individuals they have detained. Though an ICE official affirmed that “comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in ICE custody," the recent deaths that have occurred in ICE facilities prove otherwise. Reportedly, some of the immigrants currently held in detention are being denied lifesaving care, including access to cancer and HIV treatment and psychological counseling. As per The Huffington Post, one of the women who were recently moved, for instance, is suffering from cancer of the uterus but has not received medical treatment for over two months. Another still is HIV positive and claimed she was not getting her medication or being evaluated by a doctor despite experiencing aggravated symptoms.
As ICE continues to treat immigrants with a lack of respect, dignity, and empathy, lawyers and activists fear that it won't be long before we hear of more deaths from their detention centers. Simultaneously, it is evident that the immigration system and its online portal, already flawed, to begin with, are under heavy strain while the humanitarian crisis at the border worsens. What does this mean for detainees trapped within the system? "We know the whole for-profit prison system is putting money before people’s humanity. It’s just a matter of time before we see the next death in ICE custody," suggested Meza.