Doctors Say Migrants in Need of Medical Care Are Treated Poorly

By Shani Saxon Jun 10, 2019

Healthcare providers are ringing the alarm about the rights of asylum-seekers in need of medical care, The New York Times reports in an article posted today (June 10). Dozens of migrants apprehended at the southwest border are being taken to hospitals on a daily basis, and the doctors and nurses charged with their care are worried that government agencies are endangering the lives of migrants. 

Doctors point out that, in many cases, when patients are recently apprehended asylum-seekers and only in custody because of their immigration status, they are often victimized via extreme security measures, according to The Times. 

The news outlet refers to a case in Tucson, Arizona, where Rom Rahimian, a medical student working at Banner-University Medical Center, was trying to care for a 20-year-old pregnant migrant from Guatemala who had been found in the desert and was experiencing premature labor. Intimidating border agents refused to leave the room while she received care, which included medical exams, consultations with doctors and ultrasounds. The agents also pressured hospital staff to discharge the woman early so that she could be sent to an immigration detention center. “It was a race against the clock to see if we can get her into any other situation,” Rahimian told The Times.

Kathryn Hampton, a program officer for Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), told The Times, “Doctors, who have a moral and ethical obligation and duty to care for patients, are actively being prevented from carrying out the practice of medicine as they’ve been trained to practice it.” PHR released a report detailing multiple cases where the health of migrants was jeopardized by increased immigration security. 

The Times reports that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials declined to respond to these claims. Instead, both organizations refered interested parties to “their written standards for the supervision of detainees taken to community medical facilities.”

Per The Times:


In CBP’s case, the standards state that at least one agent should accompany detainees and, if the patient is hospitalized, “follow their operational office’s policies and procedures.” ICE has separate standards that require custodial officers to transport and remain with detainees during off-site medical treatment.

Some health insurance companies also subscribe to severe restrictions for immigrant detainees. According to The Times:


Banner Health, like some others, has a policy that applies equally to immigration detainees and prisoners. It disallows bathroom privileges, requires at least two limbs to be secured to beds unless medically inadvisable, gives agents discretion over whether mothers may visit newborns and obliges law enforcement officers to remain with patients.

The author of that policy, Elizabeth Kempshall, Banner Health’s senior director of security, told The Times that she plans to adjust the regulations, but, she said, “it’s not going to change a whole lot.”