Undocumented Woman With a Brain Tumor Remains in ICE Detention

Sara Beltran Hernandez has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, but remains in an ICE detention center—a fact her lawyers and human-rights groups call inhumane.

Amnesty International/Twitter

New details have emerged about the health condition of an undocumented woman with a brain tumor held in an ICE detention center. Human-rights advocates say her continued detention is inhumane, and her lawyers hope an immigration judge will let her out on parole.

She is scheduled to have a bond hearing on March 2.

Since The Daily Beast first reported on her case last month, ICE agents took Sara Beltran Hernandez out of the hospital where she was being held and put her back in the detention center. Lawyers say a medical staffer there checks on her once a day, that she has no social interaction with other detainees, and that they worry she isn’t receiving adequate medical care.

In a statement, ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said that Beltran Hernandez had been declared stable by her doctor on Feb. 22 and returned to the ICE facility.

“Beltran-Hernandez has an appointment next week with a specialist who will determine the course for future medical treatment,” he said in a statement. “Until that time, ICE medical staff is keeping her under observation.”

Rusnok said that when she was in the hospital, “Beltran-Hernandez was able to speak to her family and to her attorney of record by phone.”

“She also met with her attorney of record and consular representative in person Feb. 23,” he said. “Like all detainees in our care, Beltran-Hernandez will continue to have access to 24-hour emergency medical care and access to any required specialized treatment at an outside facility.”

Still, Beltran Hernandez’s situation has drawn outrage from activists. A spokesperson for Amnesty International—which is advocating for her release—said concerned activists have made thousands of phone calls to the facility where she is being held.

Beltran Hernandez entered the U.S. illegally in November 2015 and was soon apprehended by Border Patrol agents and put in detention. In court documents, she said she came here fleeing domestic abuse and threats of gang violence. She said she feared she would be killed if she went back to her country. Her asylum claim is currently in court.

In February, she started complaining of severe headaches. Then, on Feb. 10, she collapsed and was subsequently hospitalized. While she was in the hospital, as The Daily Beast reported, she had extremely limited access to her family and lawyers. They feared the worst. After The Daily Beast reported on her story, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents took Beltran Hernandez back to the detention center, where she was able to communicate more easily with her attorneys. She has been at the detention center for the past week, and her lawyers fear she isn’t getting adequate medical care.

Since her hospitalization, Beltran Hernandez’s case has drawn substantial media attention and highlighted the challenges of humanely detaining immigrants and asylum-seekers. Amnesty International is urging ICE to let her out of the detention center on parole. But it isn’t clear if that will happen.

In the meantime, Beltran Hernandez’s lawyers say they worry being detained will harm her health. Fatma Marouf, who heads the Immigrants Rights Clinic at Texas A&M University and is helping represent Beltran Hernandez, told reporters on a conference call on March 1 that she’s concerned about her client.

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“It doesn’t seem like they are taking her complaints of pain very seriously because the symptoms aren’t being managed,” she said.

Marouf said she met with Beltran Hernandez on Feb. 28, and that she has a very severe headache, numbness around her mouth and face, difficulty walking, and extreme fatigue. She said when Beltran Hernandez went from the ICE facility to a clinic for an appointment on Feb. 27, the guards shackled her hands, waist, and ankles. Marouf added that Beltran Hernandez didn’t initially have a translator at the appointment, though a female ICE guard stayed in the room at the clinic while she was there.

Marouf said the tumor Beltran Hernandez has been diagnosed with is a pituitary macroadenoma—a benign tumor growing around her pituitary gland that can hemorrhage and bleed. It’s bled in the past, Marouf added, and could start hemorrhaging again. Besides being painful, the tumor could impair her vision. Marouf said Sara may need brain surgery to remove it, and that she also needs close monitoring by medical professionals and regular MRIs. And at the detention center, Marouf said she thinks those needs are going largely unmet. ICE did not provide comment for this story.

“Her human rights are being violated in ways that are shocking and outrageous,” said Eric Ferrero, a spokesperson for Amnesty International, on the call.

“This is not the way that the U.S. should be treating people who are fleeing horrific violence and coming here seeking asylum in this country,” he added.

And he said the president’s recent executive orders on immigration enforcement mean more people will likely find themselves in Beltran Hernandez’s situation.

In his address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, the president blamed immigrants for virtually all the problems America currently faces—crime, unemployment, stagnant wage growth, drug abuse, and more. He also touted his plan to create an office in the Department of Homeland Security dedicated to helping the victims of crimes committed by immigrants—a move critics say will demonize immigrants, who actually are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. And, of course, Trump discussed his plans to increase enforcement of immigration laws. Those plans include dramatically expanding the use of immigrant detention.

Human rights advocates have long criticized immigrant detention centers—many of which are managed by private prison companies—for failing to provide adequate medical care to detainees. A report that the ACLU, National Immigrant Justice Center, and Detention Watch jointly released concluded that ICE negligence preceded the deaths of 8 detainees from 2010 to 2012.

“ICE has repeatedly shown it is incapable of providing people in its custody the medical care they need and deserve—even failing to implement its own medical standards to prevent deaths,” researchers concluded.