Following concerns from immigrant rights advocates over lack of medical treatment and other abuses, Immigration and Customs Enforcement late last month moved hundreds of women out of a notorious Texas facility that in the past has also served as a migrant family jail. The problem now, though, is that attorneys and advocates say they have no idea where those women currently are.
“The ICE Detainee Locator—the system that lists where each migrant detainee is—lists many of the women as still at Karnes,” Andrea Meza of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, told Rolling Stone, “despite the fact that both ICE and GEO Group, the private contractor that operates the facility, assurances that they are not.”
“The online system that tracks ICE detainees is notoriously faulty,” HuffPost reports, and this is especially terrifying because of the seriousness of the medical conditions that led to advocates demanding they be released from Karnes in the first place. RAICES said one detainee was being denied cancer treatment, another a cancer biopsy, and others mental health care. “We’ve heard so many women talk to us about wanting to kill themselves,” Meza said.
This jail is no place for vulnerable people, yet ICE has illegally imprisoned children there for weeks on end. Under a decades-old court agreement, the government isn’t supposed to detain migrant kids longer than 20 days, but in March, RAICES found some kids had been jailed at Karnes anywhere from 41 to 58 days. Advocates are also worried that the women from Karnes are still not getting the care they need, but that they’ve been sent to remote detention facilities where it’s more difficult to access legal help.
For some, it’s already happened. “Of the women RAICES has been able to locate, some are being housed at a private prison in Mississippi that the Justice Department found so poorly-managed it issued a scathing 65-page report detailing its problems,” Rolling Stone continued. Ten of the 12 detainees interviewed for that report “expressed concerns about the quality of health care provided to them or other inmates” and “included complaints about how difficult it was to see a physician.”
As attorneys and advocates are now demanding answers about the hundreds of women moved from Karnes, they’re also worried about the migrant families that are again expected to be jailed there soon. “If we can’t advocate for better medical treatment in detention,” RAICES tweeted, “they could die.” Just days into ICE’s new fiscal year, it’s already had a death on its watch. Nebane Abienwi, originally from Cameroon, was just 37.