More allegations surface over medical treatment at Berks detention center
The Department of Human Services has sent staff to look into the latest allegations.
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After three months seeking medical evaluation, a 5 year-old detainee at the Berks County Residential Center was diagnosed with an infectious disease that causes vomiting and diarrhea, and now medical officials are concerned about a larger outbreak within the facility, according to medical records.
The undocumented mother and daughter from El Salvador, whose names were redacted in the files, have been detained at the Berks center for over four months.
The mother filed a grievance on Dec. 7, explaining (in Spanish) that her daughter had been fighting bouts of diarrhea, and that she had not received proper medical attention at the county-run facility. The next day the mother received a response (in English) from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official: "Thank you! You may dissolve your case at any time and return to your country,” the response reads, before instructing the mother to file her complaint with the medical department.
Those familiar with the case say that the complaint was mishandled.
Carol Anne Donohoe, an immigration attorney for the El Salvadoran mother and daughter, said that these complaint forms — medical or otherwise — are supposed to be sent to the Berks County board. For some reason, the complaints had been sent to ICE officials instead.
“This was just one of 12,” she said. “Other mothers submitted grievance forms as well, and they were similarly given to the deportation officers.”
Three months later, according to a medical form dated March 10, the daughter received an infectious disease consultation. The evaluating doctor diagnosed the 5-year old with Shigellosis, and strongly advised the Berks center to test all the children in the 96-bed facility.
Immigrant-rights advocates are calling it a human-rights abuse.
It's one of many allegations that are piling up at a thorny time for the Berks facility, which lost its license in Feb. 21, but has been allowed to continue operating a “child residential facility” during its appeal process.
Berks center, managed by the Berks County Board of Commissioners under ICE supervision, detains undocumented mothers and children, many of whom say they are fleeing violence in their Central American countries. As many as six detainees share one bedroom with a doorless lavatory.
Immigrant-rights advocates allege that this is just one incident in a long history of human-rights abuses.
Attorneys representing Berks recently said that DHS has reviewed similar allegations in the past and found them ungrounded. ICE maintains said that comprehensive medical care is provided at all times.
Last week, two immigrant mothers — both of whom had been held at Berks — submitted a petition detailing the “gross negligence and misconduct” inside the facility, with the hope that state officials will consider their testimonies during the license appeal process. The petition mentioned the 5 year-old girl who went untreated for months.
Located in Leesport, Berks is one of three immigrant family-detention centers in the U.S. The other two are in Texas.