ResourcesPress Release

Lack of Protocol in DHS Release Plan Spells Danger for Migrants’ Health and Safety

New York, NY

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is gravely concerned at the sudden decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release hundreds of families from immigration detention without following protocol which ensures immigrants can travel to their court hearings and be reunited with relatives. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) justified the move in a public statement, saying it is being forced to release migrants en masse because of the Flores settlement which limits the duration of child detention. But the underlying purpose of Flores is to protect children; using it as a justification for unsafely releasing them, without adequate measures or support, makes little sense.

Since the weekend, with no preparation or warning, DHS has already released hundreds of migrants – mostly asylum-seekers – from detention in Arizona. The migrants received no instructions on where to go, how to find their relatives, or where to attend their court hearings. Due to the sudden release of so many detainees, public transportation is filled to capacity; even migrants who purchased tickets cannot go anywhere and need a place to stay until they are able to travel. Community members are scrambling to help them make travel plans and to shelter them, even as ICE continues to simply drop off migrants by the busload and leave.

“Sunday night was the first we heard about it,” said Norma Price, MD, a member of PHR’s Asylum Network who has more than 10 years of experience working with migrants at the Arizona border. Dr. Price heeded a call for local volunteers; when she arrived, there were at least 150 people at one location, and more in other churches and shelters.

“I’m glad they’re not being held in detention anymore and I’m glad they’re being released. But release needs to be carried out humanely. Instead of waiting for a large crowd to be gathered before releasing migrants, ICE should release them at a pace that prevents overcrowding in shelters and havoc and confusion. Families must be treated humanely and be given adequate access to food, bathrooms, and toiletries,” Dr. Price added.

PHR is especially concerned with the health implications of this negligent practice, as there is no release plan in place for parents and children who are receiving ongoing medical care or taking medication to treat urgent health issues. Homer Venters, MD, PHR’s director of programs, stated that a release plan is a minimum standard practice in any and all detention settings, necessary to ensure that those with health concerns and other needs will not face serious harm upon discharge.

“DHS cannot simply abandon families, whom they have arrested and detained, without any plan for their release. The complete disregard for the health and safety of these families is appalling. This decision is particularly troubling given cases in August and September where a 19-month-old toddler died due to an untreated respiratory infection and a five-year-old almost died due to an untreated ruptured appendix – both shortly after being released from an ICE family detention center. The sudden eviction of hundreds of parents and children, without a proper plan for care and support, greatly heightens the risk of health harms to these families,” Dr. Venters said.

Read more about PHR’s Asylum Network.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.