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ICE Agents Forcibly Remove Asylum-Seeker Awaiting Brain Tumor Surgery from Texas Hospital

Sara Beltran-Hernandez (family photo)

US immigration officers forcibly removed a Salvadoran asylum seeker in desperate need of brain surgery from a Texas hospital on Wednesday and transferred her to a for-profit prison without contact with her family and almost no access to her lawyers.

The New York Daily News reports relatives of 26-year-old Sara Beltran-Hernandez fear she will die if she does not undergo surgery to remove a tumor in her brain diagnosed after she collapsed earlier this month following complaints of severe headaches, nosebleeds and memory loss. Beltran-Hernandez was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents when she illegally entered the United States after fleeing domestic violence and other threats in her native El Salvador in late 2015.

She has been imprisoned ever since at the for-profit Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas, which is run by Emerald Correctional Management, a Louisiana-based private prison corporation that has been accused of abusing detained immigrants at other lockups. Relatives residing in New York City have attempted to petition for her asylum.

After she collapsed last week, Beltran-Hernandez was taken to Huguley Hospital in Fort Worth, where doctors diagnosed her with a brain tumor and informed her she needed surgery. However, family spokeswoman Melissa Zuniga told reporters ICE agents forcibly removed her from the hospital Wednesday evening, binding her wrists and ankles before transporting her back to prison. “They had her tied up from hands and ankles,” Zuniga said. “She was brought in a wheelchair and is not being given treatment even though her nose continues to bleed and she has told them her head is exploding.”

When Beltran-Hernandez’s relatives inquired about her treatment on Wednesday night, they were informed that she was no longer on a surgery wait list. “ICE was preparing paper work to get her back to the detention center,” Zuniga said. The Associated Press reports Beltran-Hernandez has been denied most contact with her lawyers and relatives.

“Requests by family members to visit ICE detainees who have been hospitalized are permitted but must be approved in advance with ICE and the appropriate consulate,” the agency explained in the statement.

Beltran-Hernandez’s hospital removal came a day after President Donald Trump moved to greatly expand the Department of Homeland Security’s power to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to increase the number of Border Patrol agents by 15,000 in what one prominent critic called a “deportation force on steroids.” Trump promised during the 2016 presidential campaign to create a deportation force to round up and expel up to 11 million people who entered the country illegally. Trump also promised such mass deportations would be handled “in a very humane way.”

During the Trump administration’s short-lived ban on refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and all other travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations, reports of desperate people being denied life-saving medical care in the United States, or being forcibly separated from their families while receiving such treatment here, shocked the conscience of the world. One particular incident, in which a four-month-old Iranian baby was denied permission to enter the US for surgery to repair a fatal heart defect, sparked such outrage that the infant was issued a waiver from the ban.

The government’s reliance upon, and funding of, private prisons to house detained immigrants has been denounced by immigrant and human rights advocacy groups, while for-profit prison companies are elated at the prospect of even greater profits than they currently enjoy. The stock prices of most publicly-traded private prison companies have soared since Trump’s election, with Geo Group and CoreCivic’s shares soaring 138 percent and 89 percent respectively since November 8. While Emerald Corrections is a privately-held company, it still stands to profit tremendously from operating prisons in what human rights advocates fear could be an age of mass deportations.

Emerald Corrections has faced harsh criticism of how it runs its prisons, from questionable lobbying and hiring practices to alleged detainee abuse so appalling that one former guard quit her job citing “inhumane” prisoner treatment at the Rolling Plains Regional Jail and Detention Center in Haskell, TX. “Animals were treated better than the inmates,” the whistleblower guard, Judy Morell, told federal investigators. “I refuse to be a part of it any more.”

This isn’t the first time Emerald Corrections has been accused of denying a prisoner urgent medical care. When a 17-year-old Palestinian Rolling Plains prisoner locked in solitary confinement began complaining he was urinating blood, guards mocked him and told him he was “probably dying.” The teen was denied medical care for 10 days.

ICE told the Daily News Beltran-Hernandez would receive all necessary medical care, with “access to 24 hour emergency medical care and to any required specialized treatment at an outside facility.”

“ICE takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care,” agency spokeswoman Dani Bennett said.

However, the imprisoned woman’s family fears the worst could happen. “We’ve tried calling everyone. We’ve called the White House, we tried calling Mayor de Blasio, we tried calling Obama, we’ve tried calling senators,” Zuniga told the Daily News. “We just want her out of there. I fear we may be too late.”

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