UMN medical students call for better conditions at detention centers

A recent rally held by the University’s Latino Medical Student Association protested conditions in ICE facilities.

University of Minnesota Medical Students, from left, Omar Cespedes, Regina Lorenzo,  Karina Romo, David Molinar, Santana Sanchez, and Angelina Omodt-Lopez pose for a portrait on the West Bank Campus on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. 

Kamaan Richards

University of Minnesota Medical Students, from left, Omar Cespedes, Regina Lorenzo,  Karina Romo, David Molinar, Santana Sanchez, and Angelina Omodt-Lopez pose for a portrait on the West Bank Campus on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. 


Jasmine Snow

A group of Latino medical students is consolidating field expertise and humanitarian advocacy to campaign for better conditions in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers.

Students in the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities’ chapter of the Latino Medical Student Association are advocating for a bill in Congress that would set a standard of care for immigrants in detention centers operated by Customs and Border Patrol. LMSA members believe the detention center conditions lie at the intersection of public health and humanitarian efforts.

The Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act would require CBP to provide adequate drinking water, food, hygiene products and other essentials to immigrants in detention centers. The legislation would also require initial health screenings to identify individuals with acute health conditions or who require more immediate care or priority, like pregnant women, children and those with disabilities. 

The legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives in July and now awaits Senate action. 

“When I visited the CBP detention facilities at our border, I saw dirty, inhumane conditions that threatened the health of infants, toddlers and pregnant women. Seven children have now died under the custody, and therefore the responsibility, of our federal government,” said Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., in a statement to the Minnesota Daily. 

Students in LMSA showed their support for the bill with a rally on Sept. 4 at Northrop Plaza. LMSA chapter co-founder Karina Romo and chapter events chair David Perez-Molinar organized the rally. 

Romo and Perez-Molinar said the humanitarian side of the issue should not get lost in policy discussions. 

“We wanted to make this a human rights movement,” Romo said. “It’s really a generational trauma that the facility conditions and family separations are leading the Latinx community to experience.”

The public health ramifications of poor detention center conditions make the issue even more urgent, Romo said. She said a lack of access to adequate care puts the larger population at risk of disease. 

“When people are put in the detention centers and they do not have access to acute care that they need and they don’t have access to preventative care that keep populations safe, they’re at an increased risk of disease for themselves and … for the populations at wide,” Romo said.  

The bill does not grant any pathways to citizenship —  it only dictates detention center conditions, which should not be political, Romo said. 

“It’s not a bill that is offering grandiose requirements,” she said. “It’s really just the basics: clean water, sanitation and shelter.”

Perez-Molinar said while the bill is a step in the right direction, he believes more could be done to improve conditions for immigrants. 

“The ideal that we would all hope for is that people aren’t being crammed into one large cage space and told to, essentially, sleep there and all use the same facilities.”

Update: A statement by Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Cali, has been updated to reflect the number of children who have died in custody. Seven children have died.