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700 Migrant Women in U.S. Custody Unaccounted For, Their Lawyers Say

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement moved 700 migrant women out of detention, including some who had serious medical conditions, without notifying their families or lawyers where they they had been relocated. Now, in addition to the still unaccounted for children separated from their families as a result of President Donald Trump’s Zero Tolerance policy in 2018, these additional 700 migrants are unaccounted for.

The women, who were being held at Karnes County Residential Center in Texas, were transferred to other detention centers across the country to make room for incoming migrant families on Sept. 20, and their location is still unclear. 

Karnes officials did not give the migrants’ lawyers a way to contact the women. As of early October, lawyers from the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) had no idea where the majority of the women were being held, and are unable to find updated information using ICE’s online detainee tracking system, the lawyers said. Now, more than a month later, things are not any more clear for the lawyers. 

Andrea Meza, who serves as Director of Family Detention Services for RAICES, told mitú that ICE isn’t legally required to inform anyone, including lawyers, when a detainee is transferred to a different location. 

But, like the lawyers, she is particularly concerned about the health of the women with serious medical conditions. “I’m really fearful that their conditions could worsen. I don’t want them to be in another ICE press release about death in detention,” Andrea said. 

Transferring migrants without notifying their lawyers and family members is common practice on the part of ICE, this HuffPost report found. That is why migrants’ legal cases sometimes proceed without legal representation, particularly in remote areas where it’s difficult to attain lawyers in the first place. Meanwhile, migrants with severe health issue could die without someone in the legal arena to advocate on their behalf.

ICE has assured the media and immigrant advocates that migrants in custody receive “adequate medical care.” 

“Comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in ICE custody,” an ICE spokesperson told HuffPost in the same report. They said staff includes registered nurses, licensed medical health providers, a doctor and access to 24-hour emergency care. 

An unnamed ICE spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost that  the migrant women at Karnes were transferred to other locations but fell short of explaining why their new locations had not been updated in the online tracking system. 

Some migrants were denied lifesaving care while at Karnes, including cancer and HIV treatment, and patients on suicide watch didn’t receive psychiatric counseling, according to HuffPost. 

According to NBC News, at least seven children in immigration custody in the U.S. have died since last year.

Lawyers have also expressed their frustration with ICE’s detainee tracking system. In theory, the online ICE Detainee Locator is supposed to have updated information approximately 24 hours after a person has been relocated, but lawyers say the site is unreliable. 

Texas-based immigration attorney Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch said the resource works 50% of the time. “I think FedEx does a better job of tracking its packages than ICE does of tracking the people it detains,” Kate told HuffPost.

RAICES has brought attention to the issues at Karnes by collecting testimonials from female detainees and sharing them online and starting a hashtag and call to action, #shutdownkarnes. 

As RAICES’ campaign gained traction, ICE announced that Karnes would be converted back to a family facility and any adult women housed there would be transferred to other detention centers.

This article is brought to you through a nonprofit, newsroom partnership with our friends at Project Pulso. Click here to learn more about Project Pulso.