On Monday, five mothers served the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with notices of forthcoming lawsuits, seeking damages totaling $10 million for abuse, neglect, and trauma allegedly suffered by the mothers and their children in a for-profit family detention center in Dilley, Texas.
Last month, Fusion reviewed 28 affidavits from detained mothers testifying to medical neglect at the newly constructed South Texas Family Residential Center in Texas which then held nearly 2,000 women and children—the vast majority seeking asylum from violence in Central America. The testimonies painted a picture of a facility where medical professionals were severely understaffed, wait times often exceeded six hours, and children and mothers were routinely turned away without treatment.
Yancy Mejia, one of the five mothers that intends to sue the government, told Fusion that her wrist was dislocated and fingers broken when she was kidnapped by a gang in El Salvador. When she went to visit the doctor at the facility operated by private prison company Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) she was only told to drink water. Mejia said the pain was so intense she had trouble sleeping and resorted to keeping her hand in a sock to protect her fingers.
Three of the mothers who say they will file suits, including Mejia, have been released to await their immigration hearing outside of the detention center. The other two mothers are still behind bars.
While Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) typically does not comment on pending litigation, spokesperson Richard Rocha has defended the quality of care, saying that medical professionals “develop individualized courses of treatment for all ailments reported by residents” and are able to provide “prescription or over the counter drugs.”
Last month, a federal judge ruled that the hundreds of women and children held in family detention facilities should be released, calling the settings “deplorable” and arguing that their detainment violated a 1997 settlement. The Obama administration is fighting that ruling, arguing that family detention centers, built initially as a response to a surge in border crossings, are necessary to deter further unauthorized immigration.
Politicians and advocates have argued that America is repeating a shameful history of detaining immigrants, comparing the family detention camps in Texas to the internment camps set up to detain Japanese Americans during World War II.
Satsuki Ina, who was born in a Japanese internment camp in Texas, returned to the state earlier this year to visit a family detention facility in Karnes, Texas.
“The incarceration of innocent women and children seeking asylum in America tragically replicates the racism, hysteria, and failure of political leadership of 1942,” Ina wrote in a column for the ACLU. “Have we not learned from the past?”
The forthcoming lawsuits also include the cases of a six year old girl whose mother says she vomited blood for several days and lost consciousness and the case of a four year old boy who allegedly vomited for seven days before being able to see a doctor.
“The administration’s irrational, morally bankrupt family detention policy must end,” Andrew Free, the attorney representing the families, said. “Until it does, these women, and potentially thousands more women and children mistreated in family detention, will do everything in their power to hold government bureaucrats and corporate executives responsible for violating their rights.”