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UA study faults treatment of female immigration detainees

Women held in three immigration detention facilities in Arizona receive inadequate treatment, ranging from deficient medical care to being mixed in with people serving criminal sentences, University of Arizona researchers said Tuesday.

The report issued by the Southwest Institute for Research on Women criticized Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency responsible for detaining immigrants facing administrative deportation hearings, for a variety shortcomings.

It focused on such issues as failing to recognize mental health needs, family separation, inadequate access to telephones and legal materials and severe penal conditions, such as shackling, for women who are not serving criminal sentences.

Researchers cited such situations as a six-month pregnant woman without prenatal care access for more than a month and another woman, diagnosed with cervical cancer shortly before she was put into detention, who waited months to see a nurse, then saw an oncologist only after an emergency.

“The sad thing is that these horror stories continue,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union.

The study also took ICE to task for aggressive government prosecution and detention of women who pose no security threat or flight risk.

“There is, under the law, mandatory detention for a great number of immigrants. But then there are many immigrants who aren’t subject to mandatory detention that they’re still insisting on detaining,” said the study’s author, Nina Rabin, the institute’s director of border research and co-director of the immigration clinic at the university’s James E. Rogers College of Law.

“So they’re going far beyond what the law requires.”

But Katrina S. Kane, ICE detention and removal field director in Arizona, noted that the study itself said its information was drawn from a small number of participants not necessarily representative of the entire detainee population, and that researchers relied on anonymous detainees’ self-reporting, without independent corroboration.

Those interviewed represent less than 0.0003 percent of more than 72,000 immigrants detained in Arizona before being deported in fiscal 2008, Kane said.

As for medical treatment, Kane disputed the facts surrounding the detainee believed to have had cervical cancer. She said the woman had surgery and chemotherapy before detention, then had more than 80 medical appointments while in custody, “including 15 offsite to consult with specialists and to complete diagnostic tests.”

Kane also said all medical facilities at all centers that ICE uses are required to comply with ICE’s national detention medical standards. And detainees can make free phone calls to consular officials, the Department of Homeland Security’s office of inspector general, lawyers and pro bono legal organizations, she said.

Rabin said ICE puts women into mandatory detention when there are alternatives and no flight risk or security threat.

Officials use five detention facilities in Arizona to house 3,000 of 28,750 immigration detainees held daily nationwide. Three of the Arizona sites, in Florence and Eloy, accommodate more than 300 women detainees.

Arizona is the nation’s busiest crossing point for illegal immigrants.

Third-year law students interviewed a total of 42 people, including 21 women who were or had been detainees. Two were detainees’ family members and 19 were lawyers or social workers.

Researchers were not allowed to interview ICE personnel or staffers from the detention facilities.

University anthropologist Ted Downing, a former state legislator, said the method used for the study was valid, defensible and common.

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