Report: Women Horribly Neglected in Florida's Immigration Jails

Marlene Jaggernauth had been a legal U.S. resident for 27 years when the ICE agents came knocking on her door in 2003.

They arrested the Trinidad native on a shoplifting charge from six years earlier, took her from her four young children, and moved her from county jail to county jail around Florida for a full year while her case was adjudicated.

Her situation was terrible enough, but she couldn't believe what she saw during her time in Florida's ICE prisons: mentally ill women denied medicine for weeks and mocked by guards as they suffered terrifying visions; women routinely denied basic supplies like sanitary pads; medical service for seriously ill prisoners maliciously denied. " I saw a great deal of suffering and it was heartbreaking," Jaggernauth, a slight, well-dressed 43-year-old said today.

She spoke this afternoon at a Midtown press conference Riptide attended where two advocacy groups released reports detailing a systemic lack of health care for immigrants detained by ICE at prisons in Florida and elsewhere around the United States.

Many of the 400,000 immigrants who spent time in ICE custody last year were charged with no crimes other than overstaying a visa or entering the U.S. illegally, yet were treated with a lack of basic human care that even the worst U.S. felons are guaranteed, the reports assert. Even those with health care are dependent on ICE for basic treatment and daily medicine -- both of which are routinely denied.

Edwidge Danticat, the Haitian born author of "Brother I'm Dying," a National Book Prize finalist last year, also attended the meeting and recounted one of the events that inspired her book.

Her 81-year-old uncle Joseph, a pastor and throat cancer survivor, fled political violence in Haiti in 2004 for Miami. When he landed at MIA, he told ICE officials that he planned to seek asylum. They arrested him and placed him in the Krome Detention Facility, where he was accused of faking his illnesses and denied his daily medications. He died five days later at a Miami hospital.

Such events are shockingly commonplace, Cheryl Little, the executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, said. Her group authored one of the reports, which includes the stories of immigrants who suffered ruptured appendixes and late-stage cancers in ICE care and were denied treatment.

"In many ways, ICE detention is a secret world outside American's view," Little said. "They do these things with impunity, shielded by the fact that the vast majority of these women don't have lawyers."

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based NGO, released an independently researched report at the meeting that reached similar conclusions. The two groups called on ICE to change their policies limiting access to emergency care, stop the detention of pregnant women and those who had suffered obvious abuse, and to speed the review process for immigrants with serious medical conditions.

A call to ICE regarding the reports was not immediately returned. If and when the agency responds to the reports, we'll update our entry.

ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez just responded to Riptide in an email. She says that new Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has made immigrant detainee health care a priority and has appointed a "special advisor on detention and removal." Below is the response in its entirety.

Secretary Napolitano recognizes the importance of ensuring that all ICE detainees receive appropriate medical treatment.

In light of her commitment to the safe and humane treatment of all ICE detainees, she has appointed Dr. Dora Schriro to serve as her special advisor on detention and removal.

Prior to joining ICE, Dr. Schriro served as the Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections in Governor Napolitano's administration. Dr. Schriro has also held numerous public service positions to include serving as the Missouri Department of Corrections Director; the Assistant Commissioner of the NYC Department of Corrections, and Warden and then Commissioner of the St. Louis City jails.

Secretary Napolitano has asked Dr. Schriro to focus exclusively on the significant growth in immigration detention and ways of improvement as we move forward.
· While ICE spent $128 million in FY 2008 to provide medical and mental health care to its detainees, we recognize that there is a real opportunity for measurable, sustainable improvement.

· All ICE detainees, regardless of location, should expect to receive a medical screening within 12 hours of admission; a physical exam within two weeks of detention; timely and appropriate responses to emergent medical requests, and timely medical care appropriate to the anticipated length of detention.

· The FY 2009, appropriation provided $2 million to ICE to undertake an immediate review of the medical care provided to individuals detained by DHS.

ICE will continue working with other agencies and stakeholders to improve the scope, the services and the system of health care delivered to ICE detainees.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink