11/04/2014 01:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Report Alleges Human Rights Abuses at DHS Facilities on the Mexican Border


Child's drawing of DHS detention center with the caption: "It was very cold, cold."

Detainees at short-term Department of Homeland Security facilities in Southern Arizona have faced "a long term pattern of human rights violations" according to a report released today by the Guatemala Acupuncture and Medical Aid Project (GUAMAP), a non-governmental international health organization based in Tucson.

In an email exchange, Blake Gentry, GUAMAP member and author of Deprivation Not Deterrence said the report was meant to "use our experience in health care and with the cultures of Guatemala in interpreting what conditions Central Americans were migrating from and what they were migrating to."

GUAMAP, which has trained rural Guatemalan health care workers for over 20 years, conducted 45 minute interviews with 68 detainees over a two month period.

According to Gentry, two dozen additional families were interviewed, but asked that their responses not be made public, "even with the guarantee that personal identifying information would not be published." The families felt "anxiety over their future US immigration proceedings."

Among the violations reported by detainees were:

  • Insufficient, spoiled and sub-standard food
  • Insufficient or tainted drinking water
  • Psychological, physical, or verbal abuse
  • Insufficient medical care, most notably for pregnant women and children

Anecdotal evidence of the latter was given by a Honduran mother who said her young son, "began to bleed from the nose" while in detention. She said a border agent told her that "this is normal," and refused to allow medical personnel to attend to the sick child.

Along with tales of abuse and statistics to support those allegations, the report also "debunks... the public perception of immigrants as terrorists and criminals," Gentry asserted.

"Economic displacement created by NAFTA and CAFTA trade agreements drove and continues to drive rural agricultural workers out of those countries in order that they can survive," Gentry said.

Gentry added that some 6.6 million of the approximately 11 million undocumented in the United States are "farm workers who are migrating to survive economic collapse in the agricultural labor market."

"In plain terms their jobs were destroyed by large plantation agriculture now reaping enormous profits and US commercial agriculture that exports basic crops to those areas where they used to grow such crops."

Gentry also believes the report proves "the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) policy of subjecting immigrants to harsh treatment in border patrol stations in order to deter them from coming has failed."

"We perceive looming international threats but are being guided by fear and those who traffic in selling fear," Gentry said, also comparing current immigration policies to those which eventually sent several Native American tribes--once also considered "illegals"--down the infamous Trail of Tears.

"However, this time, [it is] our neighbors in North America and Central America, whose immigrants account for 73% of all undocumented in the United States," Gentry said.

"We do not live in an isolated region any longer. If you make international trade deals to exchange goods, capital investments and technology, but exclude the people hurt by the worst by those trade deals, more illegal people will be coming unless the deals are fixed. We can no longer afford not to [fix them]--unless taxpayers want to shell out more money for a problem we were told was going to be solved in 1995."

Photo credit: Deprivation Not Deterrence, GUAMAP 2014