John Hudak and Christine Stenglein, Brookings Institution - Poor Heath Care for Detained Migrants

John Hudak and Christine Stenglein, Brookings Institution
Poor Heath Care for Detained Migrants


If you’ve been following the news from America’s southwestern border, you will probably have noticed that almost everyone who is there, from visiting journalists to Congress members or staff, to humanitarian volunteers, to local residents, to people who work for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and (CBP) Customs and Border Protection, would agree with this summation written for a recent report from the Brookings Institution:

“Immigration agencies have not been given the resources to meet their obligations, internal oversight has been lacking, transparency has been limited, accountability has been scarce, and even proposed solutions such as contracting have not solved these problems, but simply shifted them to another setting. In the end,” the report concludes, “humans suffer from these governmental shortcomings, noted in ICE detention facilities.”

Here’s an example from the Brookings report – “’The kids had colds and were sick and said they didn’t have access to soap to wash their hands. It was an alcohol-based cleanser. Some kids who were detained for 2-3 weeks had only one or two opportunities to shower. One said they hadn’t showered in three weeks,’ [a Human Rights Watch staff member] said.”

File that under “health risks – hygiene” and note that hundreds of migrant people who could not wash were living crammed in close together. A Department of Homeland Security inspector reported “at one facility, some single adults were held in standing room only conditions for a week and at another, some single adults were held more than a month in overcrowded cells.”

And inspectors found facilities which “had not provided children access to hot meals …until the week we arrived. Instead, the children were fed sandwiches and snacks for their meals.”

Such living conditions would predict high rates of illness among ordinary healthy populations … well, how about a population that had been walking for weeks, sometimes sleeping outdoors exposed to the elements, or in close-packed shelters, eating little and poorly, a population already in vulnerable health?

How might those people respond to the challenge of living dirty, crowded and underfed?  Often, by getting sick, and in at least three known cases of young children in Border Patrol custody, dying of influenza, a communicable disease.

Add it up, say our guests today, the authors of this Brookings Report, John Hudak and Christine Stenglein, and you have not only a humanitarian nightmare, but a self-made public health emergency that is going untreated.



John Hudak is deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management and a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. His research examines questions of presidential power in the contexts of administration, personnel, and public policy. Additionally, he focuses on campaigns and elections, legislative-executive interaction, and state and federal marijuana policy.

John’s 2016 book, Marijuana: A Short History, offers a unique, up-to-date profile of how cannabis emerged from the shadows of counterculture and illegality to become a serious, even mainstream, public policy issue and source of legal revenue for both businesses and governments.

His 2014 Presidential Pork: White House Influence over the Distribution of Federal Grants demonstrates that pork-barrel politics occurs beyond the halls of Congress.

Christine Stenglein is a research analyst at the Brookings Institution specializing in immigration issues.



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