I have visited two large immigration detention centers as a priest. One I have visited annually for the past seven years to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with about 400 men at the outdoors basketball court. This center is about to close in the near future. The other one I visited only once, but I remained inside for about eight hours. We visited each sector, ate lunch, and celebrated Mass with the men inside.
During my visit to the second center, lunch consisted of two cold tortillas, tasteless beans, and over salted rice. We sat at a long table in the cafeteria with the chaplain and inmates. I ate the food as a penance for the men who surrounded me. It was awful.
The lack of proper healthcare is an abominable issue in these detention centers. A young man I know taught at an immigration detention center in Georgia assisting the men to earn their GED. He became indignant when an inmate became ill and was told to do salt water gargles on a Friday, and by Monday the man was dead.
I will never forget the faces of the men when I entered one of the sectors at the prison. There were about forty of them. As we entered the area they looked at us with the most helpless expressions I have ever seen. I addressed them, introduced our bishop and myself, and offered to say a prayer with them. One of the men spoke up, “oh, I thought you were here to help us get out of here.” My heart was heavy.
The fact that a person is imprisoned, whether for an immigration violation, or anything else, does not decrease his or her human dignity. How can it be that a report comes out from the immigration detention center in Ocilla, Georgia, that women received hysterectomies unknowingly and many question its veracity, rather than to be appalled that such a thing could be happening?
I know the priest who for years was a chaplain at Ocilla, which is within the territory of my diocese. His permission to serve as chaplain was rightly revoked because he did not always follow the regulations set forth by this privately owned prison, but he often speaks of various irregularities and injustices that occur in that place.
I have visited patients in hospitals who do not speak English who are clueless about their diagnosis and the treatment they have received. Several times I have visited someone after surgery, and the person did not know what had been done. Where is consent? Consent for treatment does not happen when a patient signs a form, but rather when the patient understands what will be done to him or her. By law, patients who do not speak English must be provided with an interpreter, but that does not always happen. Many times because I happened to be present, I was able to translate for a doctor or nurse when an important message had to be delivered to a patient.
All this to say that I am not surprised that patients who do not speak English received treatments they did not understand, and that I am not surprised that healthcare at immigration detention centers is poor and inadequate.
This is about human dignity and respect. An issue such as this needs to be investigated and those responsible must answer to the law.
Picture is not mine, Wiki Commons.