“A mí me llevaron de urgencias, de emergencia, al hospital, a mí me sacaron de emergencia porque me dolía el corazón y… pero resulta que no, no me sale nada. Dicen que todo está bien, pero yo sigo con ese problema… Es que a mí me duele, un dolor en el corazón, me duele el corazón. A veces siento que me da piquetazos, entonces, pero dicen las enfermeras que yo estoy bien. Lo que me dan es acetaminophen o ibuprofen, es lo único que me dan, y que tome mucha agua.”
“They took me to urgencies, to emergency, to the hospital because my heart was hurting… but it turns out that nothing, nothing is wrong. They say that everything is good but I still have that problem…. Is that it hurts me, a pain in my heart, my heart hurts. Sometimes I feel like I get stings, so, but the nurses say that I am good. What they give me is acetaminophen or ibuprofen, it is the only thing they give me, and to drink a lot of water.”
"Me caí en el shower, más de tres, cuatro veces, mis rodillas, la izquierda, a mí me duele muchísimo. Pero igual, nunca me pusieron atención. Yo siempre voy cuando me duele y lo que hacen es que tome mucha agua y ellos me dicen que mi rodilla ya la tengo inflamada, que tome mucha agua y me dan ibuprofen, es lo único que me dan. Yo pedí ver un médico, un especialista para que me vea mi rodilla, pero ya pasaron cuatro, cinco meses y nada.”
“I fell in the shower more than three, four times, my knees, the left one, it hurts a lot. But still, they never paid attention to me. I always go when it hurts and what they do is to drink a lot of water and they tell me that my knee is already swollen, to drink a lot of water and they give me ibuprofen, that is the only thing they give me. I asked to see a doctor, a specialist to see my knee but four, five months have passed and nothing.”
“...una semana con dolor de cabeza. Entonces, y ahí de ese poco, la semana pasada, el sábado por ahí creo que fue el sábado, yo fui al médico porque la cabeza me dolía muchísimo. Y yo, vieron que yo iba pálida, yo me iba desmayar en el pasillo cuando íbamos al médico. Entonces me pusieron una inyección porque yo iba bien mal de mi cabeza. Pero, eso fue lo único que me pusieron, la inyección y nada más. Y yo no más pregunto, “¿Qué es lo que yo tengo?” Me dicen, “Usted está bien.”
“…one week with a headache. Then, and there from that time, last week, around that Saturday, I think it was Saturday, I went to the doctor because my head was hurting so much. And I, they saw that I was pale, I was going to faint in the hallway when we were going to the doctor. So, they gave me an injection because I was sick from my head. But, that was the only thing they gave me, the injection and nothing more. And I ask, “What do I have?” They tell me, “you are fine.”
Entry from "Elisabeth letters":
October 8, 2020
I hope this letter finds you well and happy with your beautiful family. I'm going to tell you a little about everything that is happening here.
Yesterday, I signed up to see the psychologist because I am not feeling well with all that is happening. I woke up a 3:25 AM with a terrible headache, very strong, pulsing in the front of my head. I drank a coffee, but I could only swallow three or four sips because I felt nauseous. For lunch, I did not eat, and then I threw up anyway. Isabela told me that I looked really bad. At 1 PM, we went outside to walk around. At 1:25 PM, they told us we could go see the doctor, so we put on our uniforms.
When we were headed toward the hallway, so that we could enter the room where the official could check our bracelets and review his book to allow us to enter the other part, where they take our blood pressure and everything they need to do before you go to the doctor, I had to run to the bathroom and throw up again. After they took my blood pressure, Isabela told me, calm down. I said, I don't feel well, and she just repeated, try to calm down. I was breathing very quickly, very agitated. The nurse gave me a bag in case I needed to vomit and I then went in to see the psychologist. I told him a little of what the other women and the officials here to do me.
I told him that I wrote a letter so that if something happens to me here, the letter will say who is responsible: the three women and the officials who are watching us, and the rest of ICE because they know very well all that can happen here. That officials let other women treat me like garbage. Doctor, I have a heart, feelings, I am a person. I am not an animal, not garbage. I cannot take any more, I am about to complete two years here. They have treated me like a person who has killed someone or a thief, and thanks to God, I am neither. The only thing I did is come to this country to ask for asylum and protection, but with everything that has happened to me here, they have already taken my life.
Later that day, I was in my room with my friend Isabela, reading some papers, when an official came into the room, yelling very loudly and pointing at us, talking very quickly in English. Isabela said "No ingles" and she said "Yes, English." After that, she pointed at me again with her finger, which was only a centimeter away from my shoulder. And I thought, this official is going to hit me, and I said again, "No English."
She repeated, “Yes, English," and started to yell for Jessica. She came running. he guard pulled out a chair, and Jessica sat down. Jessica translated that the official said "what game are you playing?" I said, I'm trying to spend as much time as possible outside, and not bother anyone, because some women here say that I am the problem, simply because I don't always do what they want me to do. I cannot take it any longer.
This day, with the official yelling at me, I felt like I was worth nothing. I was also trying to keep Isabela from hurting herself because she told me that she wanted to die and she started to hurt her hand. I was finally able to calm her down. I went to my room, but I became very sad, and I began to hit myself in the face because I felt so powerless, because I cannot defend myself, and these officials don't listen to me, and they only listen to the women who can speak English.
On Tuesday, an official came to inspect my room. I had two T-shirts under my pillow and two towels. These towels I have because if one towel gets dirty, and I ask the official to change it, he gets very angry and talks very nastily to me. The official took my extra shirts and my extra towels, at around 10:30 AM, when I was outside, listening to music and dancing. I came back to my room between 11:05 and 11:20 AM, when they do the count, and began to get ready for my shower, laying out my clothes and my towels. I said "Wow, they have left me without a clean shirt to wear."
At 12:15, I went to my friend's room and told her that the official left me without a shirt to wear, I have only the shirt I am wearing. I went back to my room to rest, but I decided to tell the official that I needed a shirt because I was going to bathe. I told her what size I needed, but she just started to talk to one of the other women. They talked for 25 minutes, with me waiting in my room. Finally, I went back to the official and said, "Officer," but she shooed me away with her hands, and then said something in English. The other women started to laugh at me.
I just said, OK, thanks, and I went to put on my sweater because I did not have a clean shirt to wear after my shower. I went to take a shower, and when I came out, they were all there, laughing at me, and I wanted to just disappear. After that, my friend asked for an extra T shirt and the guard gave her one. She gave it to me.
I told the psychologist, I cannot take this any longer. He said, you are depressed, I am going to send you to a psychiatrist so that she can give you a prescription for tranquilizers. But I don't want to take any drugs because I am not crazy. I think if I take these drugs, I might get sick.
When I think I cannot take it anymore, I start to think about my mother, my nieces and nephews, my sisters. I look at the photos of them, and the photo you sent me. I look at the photo of you and Ezra and Alex, and you all look so happy. I tell myself, my family is a long ways away, but God has blessed me with another family so that I do not feel alone. I have very happy to have you, Juanita. But in truth, I don't have the strength to spend another Christmas here, without seeing my family and helping my mother with so many things.
Take care, Juanita. With love and hugs,
Healthcare & Batavia: Medical Neglect
Immigrant detention is, undoubtedly, a threat to public health. The lack of medical resources, combined with routine neglect and the absence of accountability and transparency among facility staff, prevent immigrant detainees from accessing the fundamental care they require and deserve.
In this section, we will draw upon letters and direct interview quotes from Ingrid to outline the circumstances and conditions at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility that deny detainees like her their basic health needs and render them more susceptible to illness.
The dismissal of fundamental physical health needs. Detainees are deprived of access to sufficient medical care. Staff have denied or delayed the requests of detainees who seek specialized care for specific medical concerns. This neglect is combined with the persistent lack of transparency in terms of care, as detainees do not have access to medical records and are often left in the dark about potential health conditions.
The lack of adequate and accessible mental health care. Batavia dehumanizes its detainees through substandard mental health conditions, failing to provide detainees in need with licensed clinical therapists or psychologists. Only one social worker is available to dozens of detainees, despite the debilitatingly toxic environment that detention creates.
The public health crisis in immigrant detention. As the lives of millions across the country are affected by the coronavirus pandemic, immigrant detainees are 13 times more likely to contract COVID than the general population. However, Batavia blatantly mishandled a facility outbreak (violating federal guidance on COVID-19 management), failing to protect detainees and further exposing them to the virus.
It is also important to note that Ingrid’s letters and her interview clips presented on this page are powerful means of conveying this information, but that they are also, without a doubt, deeply upsetting. The conditions described can be shocking to reckon with, for they actively strip the rights and humanity from Ingrid and the other immigrants detained at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, New York.
The lack of medical treatment of individuals in detention centers is alarming. According to the Human Rights Watch Report, Systemic Indifference Dangerous & Substandard Medical Care in US Immigration Detention, there is inadequate medical recordkeeping, inadequate physical and mental healthcare, ignored or unreasonably delayed requests for care from detainees, and overall constant neglect when it comes to the medical treatment and care of detainees. Numerous detainees have died in detention due to the disturbing lack of medical care. In our interview with Ingrid regarding her experiences with the healthcare system in Batavia, she shares a couple of instances where she further confirms that healthcare in detention, or the lack of healthcare treatment, is severely problematic.
She told us three prominent stories in which she has felt that the detention center’s healthcares system has truly failed her:
Doctors would typically recommend acetaminophen and water to someone of Ingrid’s age if having severe headaches or heart pains, but acetaminophen and water should not be the proper response to possible bone injuries from numerous falls. Ingrid’s knee pains continued for many months after her initial “treatment” of acetaminophen and water. Despite Ingrid clearly requesting to see specialists for x-rays, the detention center staff pushes her concerns and requests aside and gives her the same response: “acetaminophen and water.” Ingrid shared that there was only really one guard who gave her attention and showed some care and concern for her medical issues, but that guard was shortly moved to a different unit. In our interview, Xiomara had also shared with us that she has struggled with both mental and physical health, to the point that she has cut her wrists a couple of times. When the detention staff became aware of this, she was given her sleeping pills instead of painkillers, against her wishes. It simply comes down to the detention center staff’s clear dismissiveness and lack of genuine care and concern when it comes to detainees’ health that further illustrates the severity and troublesome healthcare system in detention. Instead of taking proper steps and precautions to what could very well be severe medical issues, the detention centers lack adequate transparency, communication, and care for detainees.
While it is clear that most immigrants in detention will struggle with mental health and mental illnesses in general, the dehumanizing and abusive nature of detention centers like Batavia makes the fight for mental stability even more difficult. This is especially true for individuals like Ingrid, who are also struggling with the trauma that brought them to seek asylum in the first place. Here is a closer look at the struggles that Ingrid has faced in regards to mental health treatment in Batavia.
This powerful letter written by Ingrid on October 8, 2020, highlights the intensity of the mental health crisis that Ingrid and every detainee faces while in detention. Not only does Ingrid have trouble asking for and receiving medical attention for her mental health, but she also struggles with the responsibility of supporting those around her, such as her friend Isabela. The responsibility alone of supporting a suicidal friend is detrimental to any individual’s wellbeing. This heavy weight, compounded with Ingrid’s personal struggle with depression, takes a significant emotional toll on Ingrid’s emotional wellbeing. “This day, with the official yelling at me, I felt like I was worth nothing. I was also trying to keep Isabela from hurting herself because she told me that she wanted to die and she started to hurt her hand.” Where is the support for these individuals who so clearly need it?
The overarching theme of her story is clear: neglect. When Ingrid finally receives attention from a psychologist after she becomes physically ill multiple times, she shares her dehumanizing experiences in detention. She expresses her feelings of vulnerability when the guards refuse her a clean shirt to wear and laugh at her when she tries to communicate with them despite the language barrier, in an attempt to effectively advocate for herself. This is an environment where even the simplest of decencies, a clean shirt for Ingrid to wear, is denied. In response to the neglect she faces from guards, she states “I wanted to just disappear.” Here, the psychologist only responds by diagnosing her with depression. While not only obvious, this diagnosis is also ineffective, as diagnosing an individual with a mental health struggle or illness does not solve their problem, it simply labels it. Additionally, the psychologist offers Ingrid a prescription for tranquilizers as seen fit by a psychiatrist. To this Ingrid articulates “but I don't want to take any drugs because I am not crazy. I think if I take these drugs, I might get sick.” The indecency in attempting to solve Ingrid’s poor mental health by drugging her with tranquilizers instead of attempting to alert Batavia to the overarching abuse and neglect she faces on a day to day basis is a devastating reality that many detainees face.
In a recent interview with Ingrid, she was asked about her mental and physical health experiences prior to detention and the pandemic. She responded, “mi mentalidad y mi salud estaba bien,” (“my mental and physical health was good”). When asked how she is now, she responded “ahora estoy destrozada mentalmente,” or in English, she is in an extreme state of mental distress. How, then, can psychologists identify her depression and justify prescribing her drugs she does not approve of, without attempting to lessen her mental burden by getting to the root of her problems: abuses in detention? Here, another theme shines through: lack of transparency. Ingrid is an effective advocate for herself despite the multiple barriers Batavia has implemented, including Ingrid’s own language barrier, but it is not enough. Ingrid has been denied mental health aid by the very institution that has caused her mental distress.
COVID-19 and Public Health Policy
The COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated the vulnerabilities of immigrants in ICE detention. Case rates in immigrant detention centers are nearly 13 times higher than they are anywhere else in the United States, a result of overcrowded and unsanitary facility conditions combined with inadequate medical resources. According to ICE’s official guidance on COVID-19 regulation, symptomatic and epidemiologically at-risk detainees are supposed to be housed separately from the general population. ICE outlines that facilities must place exposed detainees in a single medical housing room, or in a medical airborne infection isolation room specifically designed to contain biological agents like COVID-19.
ICE’s official guidance also states that detention facilities must provide alcohol-based sanitizer to staff and detainees in a secure setting whenever possible, in addition to ensuring that detainees have body soap for the shower and hand soap for sink hand washing. Everyday cleaning supplies are supposedly routinely checked and available for use, and detainees are “encouraged to communicate with local staff when additional hygiene supplies or products are needed.”
Conditions at Batavia blatantly violate this federal guidance. Ingrid’s letter below highlights the life-threatening consequences of a global pandemic are no exception to Batavia’s systemic and routine neglect:
In the wake of the country’s first wave of COVID-19 infections, Ingrid wrote to Professor Juffer on April 19th and described the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility’s lack of action during the pandemic, which translated to English reads, “It is getting very ugly. They say nine men have been infected with the virus. The worst thing is that we don't have soap. The truth is there is nothing to clean with, no rags or anything. They have moved those who are infected to a unit in front of us. We are very worried. Thanks to God, I have the soap that I bought from the commissary with the money you gave me. The officials treat us as if we are the ones who are infected, and I feel as if I can do nothing. I cannot talk to them and tell them don't treat us like animals because we're not the ones who are coming and going. They are actually the ones who are more likely to infect us than us to infect them. Plus, various officials go to the others units--C1, C2, C3, B2, etc.” Despite the fact that most of the country was under strict lockdown guidelines at this time, and the majority of state Governors were promoting important health measures for the public, recommended by the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this detention center clearly failed to enact measures that would protect the very immigrants held in their own facility from the serious threat of COVID-19. When nine men were confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19 in the men’s facility, Ingrid describes how the officials did virtually nothing to properly isolate the infected detainees and also protect the other detainees from infection. Beyond this, the detention center’s failure to provide soap, which one would consider a bare minimum for maintaining sanitary conditions, for free is simply despicable.
By the first week of May, 49 people in detention at Batavia had tested positive for COVID-19. This news was incredibly distressing for detainees, some of whom were even high-risk due to pre-existing conditions, and all of whom were subject to cramped, overcrowded, and unsanitary facility conditions. Symptomatic detainees were contained in an isolation unit directly across from Ingrid’s unit, violating CDC guidance as well as ICE regulations for housing exposed individuals separate from the general population. As the letter below references, potentially exposed officials moved freely between units, further disregarding safe practice and making detainees uncomfortable.
Additionally, officials violated ICE’s guidance to ensure that detainees have sanitation supplies. ICE did not provide detainees with adequate soap or sanitizer at the beginning of the outbreak, and Ingrid and others had to purchase these products from the commi ssary themselves. [we want to include rates for soap and sanitizer/cleaning products here]. No one should have to pay these exorbitant rates to have access to products essential for their health and well-being amidst a pandemic.
The Buffalo Federal Detention Facility’s failure to act and protect Ingrid and her fellow immigrant detainees from the ever-increasing threat of COVID-19 also serves as a relevant example for the way in which the detention system exploits immigrant detainees’ “common corporeal vulnerability” that Judith Butler presents in her essay, “Violence, Mourning, Politics.” In her essay, Butler writes, “But perhaps there is some other way to live such that one becomes neither affectively dead nor mimetically violent, a way / out of the circle of violence altogether. This possibility has to do with demanding a world in which bodily vulnerability is protected without therefore being eradicated and with insisting on the line that must be walked between the two. By insisting on a ‘common’ corporeal vulnerability, I may seem to be positing a new basis for humanism” (Butler 29-30). Here, Butler argues that if we reject the notion that there is an essential, singular, ideal body, and instead embrace our “bodily vulnerability” and common humanity, we can reject violence and abuse. Immigrants detained in detention during a pandemic are no doubt rendered specifically vulnerable and are more susceptible to illness. The immigration detention system and its failure to attend to detainees’ vulnerability during a pandemic actively rejects this common corporeal vulnerability theory. Instead of acknowledging and attending to the health needs and specific vulnerability of immigrant detainees during a public health disaster, the detention center used this vulnerability to place Ingrid and the other detainees further at risk for infection.
By Prameela Kottapalli, Clio Morrison, Hannah Schmelkin, and Emma Diller