THE HIDDEN PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS
A LOOK INTO HEALTHCARE IN MIGRANT DETENTION CENTERS
"Crisis" invokes images of widely broadcasted financial and political scandals. With news outlets constantly airing new socio-political turmoil, we often overlook public health concerns unless they are contagious and have documented incidences in the United States. However, one of the most pressing health concerns is happening in immigration detention centers and near the U.S-Mexico border.
At the Southern border, fear and a lack of resources and compassion have caused one of the gravest health crises in U.S history. On their journey to the United States, migrants often sustain life-threatening conditions and injuries with no means of treatment, even once they enter the country. In fact, some of the leading causes of non-violent death among migrants entering through the U.S-Mexico border have been heatstroke, dehydration, and hyperthermia. However, in recent years, a larger public health crisis has arisen in detention centers due to a lack of proper healthcare and conditions necessary to treat migrants with infectious illnesses, such as the flu, mumps, and the chickenpox. And with the recent numbers of detained, unaccompanied minors reaching over 1,400, the lack of adequate health care is only becoming a more pressing issue. In the overcrowded detention centers, where adults and children lack resources for basic hygiene, disease easily spreads.
The effects of a lack of proper living conditions and overcrowding are best seen by the recent nationwide mumps outbreak in detention centers. In fact, despite the near eradication of the mumps in the United States, currently, several detention centers across the country are experiencing a mumps outbreak. The first five cases of the mumps in immigrant detention centers began in Texas and within mere months, multiple incidences of the mumps were recorded in dozens of facilities across the country. With migrants spending more time in detention centers and the rapid increase in overcrowding, the incidence of disease will only continue to rise. In fact, according to Dr. Claire Bocchini, assistant professor of pediatrics (infectious disease) at Baylor College of Medicine, mumps spreads very easily in groups of people who live right next to each other – a condition increasingly seen in detention centers nationwide. Moreover, response to disease outbreaks, such as mumps, often fails to resolve the problem. Incidences of the disease often go unchecked because of a lack of health services available, giving the illness more time to spread. Additionally, the practice of quarantine and isolation, even just in cases of exposure to infectious diseases, prolongs the detainees’ time in the facility and is detrimental to their mental health. In quarantine, individuals can’t have visitors and spend 25 days alone with little human contact. This isolation can lead to depression and anxiety. As more migrants are detained, the health crisis in detention facilities will only worsen.
The conditions in detention facilities and the health of detainees will only continue to deteriorate without policy intervention. Despite receiving millions of dollars in funds, detention centers continue to fail migrants in their facilities. And the plan of the current administration to expand detention and lower the
healthcare budget for ICE facilities will further lead to illness and deaths among detained migrants. However, multiple human and immigration rights groups have proposed policy plans to ensure migrants have access to adequate healthcare. According to the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, "the United States government should restructure the detention system and reduce unnecessary detention." Although no policy changes have been made to better healthcare for detained migrants, a class-action lawsuit has been filed against ICE and Trump administration officials in the U.S District Court for the Central District of California for neglecting to address systemic failures.
Despite the lack of policy change, one of the most effective ways to make a difference in detention facilities is voting for legislators who understand the importance of providing detained migrants with accessible health services and sanitary living conditions.
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Children Sitting in One of the Overcrowded Chain-Link Pens at a Facility in McAllen, TX. U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Rio Grande Valley Sector, n.d. Accessed February 21, 2020.