Investigations Human Rights

Punished for Addiction: Women Prisoners Dying From Lack of Treatment

Zoe Greenberg & Sharona Coutts

During a five-month review of more than 200 lawsuits, and interviews with lawyers and public health experts, Rewire found that drug treatment for incarcerated women is inconsistent and inadequate—and in some incidents, it is fatal.

This is the third article in Rewire’s Women, Incarcerated series. You can read the other pieces in the series that have been published so far here.

Tracy Lee Veira had been in jail for seven days when she was finally allowed to have visitors. Popular in her hometown of Orange City, Florida, Veira had a web of friends eager to see her, as well as two young children who were restless for their mother.

For years Veira had skirted the law, possessing cocaine, violating probation. Once, Veira was pulled over by the local sheriff for driving without a license for the third time in a row. According to her mother, Donna Mullins, Veira threw her keys on the hood and said, “Please, take my keys! I have a problem with driving!”

Most recently Veira had been arrested for “doctor shopping”: requesting the same Oxycodone prescription from three different doctors.

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But Veira was also trying to remake her life. In early September 2009, she had turned herself in to the Volusia County Jail for an outstanding warrant, wanting to put her trouble behind her, according to her mother.

When she entered the jail, Veira told officials she had been taking Oxycodone, a highly addictive opioid pain medication, every day, even as recently as that morning.

But the medical staff at the Volusia County Jail did virtually nothing with that information. They did not document what she said, did not speak to her former doctor or outside pharmacy, did not make any plans to continue her medication, and did not order any follow-up care, according to a lawsuit later filed by Veira’s estate against the correctional health-care company that manages most of Florida’s corrections facilities, Corizon Health.

After three days in jail, Veira was feeling nauseous and scared. She couldn’t keep anything down. She was transferred to a solitary confinement cell, closer to the guards who were ostensibly monitoring her deteriorating health.

For the next few days, Veira tried to get the guards to help her. By the seventh night, Veira was so ill that Patty Blair, a childhood friend who was also at the jail while Veira was there, could hear Veira’s cries.

“It was frightening to hear her beg them, because you could hear in her voice that she didn’t feel good,” Blair told Rewire. Blair says the correctional officers told Veira to lie down, that she simply had a leg cramp and needed to rest.

In fact Veira was undergoing a dangerous detox.

On September 16, 2009, Veira was found dead in her cell. No one on the jail staff made any announcement; inmates whispered stories from cell to cell about who had died and why, according to Blair and another woman we spoke to who was at the jail with Veira. An autopsy later determined that Veira’s digestive system shut down due to severe dehydration. During her week in jail, she had lost 20 pounds.

In an interview with Rewire, Mullins recalled lifting Veira’s 7-year-old son onto her knee later that night. He was supposed to have visited Veira that day. Instead, Mullins told him that his mommy had gone to Heaven. “He just looked at me, and asked, ‘Why?’”

A photo of Tracy Lee Veira, from court filings.

A photo of Tracy Lee Veira, from court filings.

A Corizon spokesperson told Rewire that the company was not able to comment specifically on Veira’s case because of ongoing litigation. The spokesperson added in an email, “It is our standard policy to document all available medical history, including current prescriptions, of our patients when they enter our care.”

A Volusia County Jail spokesperson had “no comment involving the matter.”

Veira is one of thousands of women who have struggled with drug addiction behind bars. And she is not the only one who has died from poor treatment. During a five-month review of more than 200 lawsuits, and interviews with lawyers and public health experts, Rewire found that drug treatment for incarcerated women is inconsistent and inadequate—and in some incidents, like Veira’s, it is fatal.

Incarcerated women have extraordinarily high rates of drug dependency: A recent report from the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice found that 82 percent of the women they surveyed had a serious substance use disorder—a much higher rate than their male peers, who report a rate of 44 percent. It is no coincidence that incarcerated women also have high rates of mental illness and past trauma.

Like Veira, two-thirds of women in prison are incarcerated for non-violent crimes, often related to mental illness, poverty, abuse, or addiction. In 2010, more than 25 percent of female prisoners in state and federal facilities were there for drug crimes.

The petty nature of the crimes in some of the cases we examined made the poor treatment of women’s drug dependencies even more striking. Christina Ackerman, for example, was arrested for stealing DVDs from a Blockbuster in 2003. She died from dehydration related to withdrawal after five days in a county jail in Pennsylvania. She was 21 and had a three-year-old daughter, according to a lawsuit filed on her behalf.

When correctional officers found Ackerman lying on the floor in her own vomit, they notified a nurse, who said, “What do you want me to do about it?”

Savannah Sparks met a similarly grim fate when she went to jail for shoplifting in 2012. She died from complications related to withdrawal after six days in a county jail in Kentucky, according to Prison Legal News. During Sparks’ incarceration, she vomited continuously, sweated profusely, and was unable to eat or drink. But still, no one at the jail took her condition seriously.

Instead, the on-duty prison nurse told WDRB.com: “She had a bad detox. I mean, we have those all the time. It wasn’t something that made me feel like, you know, ‘Oh my god, I need to tell somebody else!’”

Medical and public health experts told Rewire that corrections facilities urgently need to improve the way they address inmates’ drug dependency.

“As a physician, I see drug addiction as a health-care issue,” Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, an OB-GYN at Johns Hopkins Hospital, told Rewire. “Without appropriate drug treatment, people are being punished for their struggles with addiction.”

Best Practices for Drug Treatment Rarely Followed

If serious drug addiction is common for women prisoners, high-quality treatment is not. A report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that between 2000 and 2011, female jail inmates were nearly twice as likely as males to die of drug or alcohol intoxication while in custody.

Detoxing from drugs and alcohol can be a dangerous process that requires physician oversight, experts told us. While coming off opiates can leave patients susceptible to death from associated dehydration or other conditions, abruptly stopping alcohol consumption can itself be fatal, due to the effects that such chemical changes can have on the brain.

Roughly one million arrestees per year may be at risk for untreated alcohol or opiate withdrawal, according to a 2004 study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The National Commission of Correctional Health Care (NCCHC), which accredits prison health-care programs, publishes standards for how to treat opioid and alcohol withdrawal in correctional settings.

For opioid withdrawal, the NCCHC advises that all inmates be carefully evaluated when they enter the jail; those that test positive for withdrawal risk should be treated with methadone or buprenorphine, both FDA-approved drugs for detoxification.

But many incarcerated people simply don’t receive that treatment.

“In a well-run prison or jail that’s providing adequate care, someone who’s detoxing would be potentially provided with some medication to ease the withdrawal symptoms, and he or she would be watched for suicide or accidental death. This requires personnel and entails costs,” Brad Brockmann, the executive director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Humans Rights at the Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, told Rewire. “The best practices, which are out there, are rarely followed.”

The quality of drug treatment can vary widely between federal prisons, state prisons, and county jails.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has a detailed drug treatment program, outlined in a 2012 report to Congress. The program includes drug abuse education at all 118 BOP facilities, as well as non-residential and residential drug abuse treatment programs at many facilities. In 2012, there were residential drug treatment programs at ten federal prisons for women (out of 27 total federal prisons for women). That year, 47,087 inmates participated in non-residential, residential, and community transition drug treatment programs in federal prisons.

There is strong evidence that offering drug treatment to prisoners has tangible benefits to society. In a three-year study published in 2000, the BOP found that female inmates who participated in residential drug abuse treatment programs were 18 percent less likely to recidivate than similarly situated female inmates who did not participate in treatment.

But for women in county jails—waiting to be sentenced or serving time for misdemeanors—drug treatment can be disorganized and insufficient.

Hope Wulliman, a former director of nursing at the Manatee County Jail in Florida, said inmates going through withdrawal at her jail were sent to a separate medical unit for “basic treatment” that fell far short of what such patients required.

“They basically got comfort measures, like Imodium [used to treat diarrhea],” she told Rewire. She said she had seen many people go through withdrawal at the jail, with “lots of different symptoms: hallucinating, jumping off the toilet, kicking at the air.”

Wulliman had never worked in corrections before she took the job in 2009.

“There wasn’t really a whole lot of training at all,” she told Rewire.

“Some of it was just common sense … nursing is nursing.”

Like most of Florida’s prisons and jails, health care at Manatee County’s facility is provided by Corizon Health, a national company with a deeply troubled record when it comes to patient care.

Inga Jones, a nurse who worked at the Volusia County Jail from 2005 to 2010—where Tracy Veira died—said in a court filing that poor drug treatment at the jail was common.

“Drug and alcohol withdrawal protocols were routinely not followed,” she said in court papers obtained by Rewire. “We worked three days on and two days off, and many times I recall returning to duty to find a patient in full-blown detox.”

When asked about their policies or procedures for inmates with drug dependency, a Corizon spokesperson said in an email, “We are always working to improve policies and procedures in the interest of our patients. We change protocols as needed and on an ongoing basis in accordance with annual NCCHC reviews.”

Florida’s problems with Corizon and its other private provider, Wexford Health Services, have been so severe that the state has announced it is seeking to renegotiate the $1.4 billion in contracts it has between the companies.

“Their Substance Abuse Treatment Just Ended”

Even at the level of state prisons—which, in contrast to jails, usually house inmates for longer periods and often for more serious crimes—drug treatment can be limited, and programs can end abruptly.

In Illinois, for example, the nonprofit Wells Center offers drug and alcohol treatment to a number of correctional facilities.

The center, which gets funding from state contracts, currently provides gender-specific and trauma-informed care modeled off cognitive behavioral therapy for about 180 women in Illinois.

The need is much greater than that. Bruce Carter, the executive director of the center, estimates that if he had enough funding, staff, and space, he could easily have three times as many patients.

Women inmates are especially eager for drug treatment, Carter told Rewire.

“Women will oftentimes have an additional motivation of wanting to get better because they’re the primary caretakers of their kids.”

According to Carter’s numbers, the treatment works. Forty-eight percent of women who have not participated in the program recidivate within three years, while women who complete treatment are far less likely to go back to prison, with a recidivism rate of only 22 percent.

But three of the five programs that Wells offered to women prisoners in Illinois have closed in the past five years.

Carter says he received a call in 2012 saying that the drug treatment program at Decatur, a minimum-security prison for women, would be shut in a week. He had to ask to keep it open for 30 days, so he could give his staff notice.

“For those inmates who were scheduled to finish their treatment in 30 days, they were able to,” Carter told Rewire. “For everyone else, their substance abuse treatment just ended.”

States Sending Pregnant Women to Jail for Drug Use

The broader political context of patchy, poor, or nonexistent drug treatment for women prisoners is this: States are increasingly jailing pregnant women because of their drug use.

In Tennessee, legislators passed a pregnancy criminalization law in 2014, making it possible to prosecute women who use illegal drugs while pregnant. The bill allows women to be charged with aggravated assault, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. As Imani Gandy has noted, the law will disproportionately affect Black women.

And as Jessica Mason Pieklo reported last year, South Carolina and Alabama have both made various criminal laws applicable to pregnant women, while Minnesota and South Dakota have altered their laws to include a special process for putting pregnant women in jail if they are deemed a risk to their fetuses. Just last month, the North Carolina Senate introduced a bill that would make it a criminal offense for a woman to use drugs while pregnant.

In other words, these laws are sending women to jail for drug use, even though county jails and state prisons are often not equipped to handle serious drug addiction.

Allison Glass, state director of Healthy and Free Tennessee, says laws that send pregnant women to jail for drug use—but do not require improved drug treatment in jails—hurt women.

“The legislators’ concern really is not about helping women, or helping the fetuses that they say they care so much about,” she told Rewire.

“It’s really about punishing women who are struggling with a health-care issue.”

A County Is Compelled to Improve Drug Treatment for Pregnant Prisoners

In Montana, a lawsuit over the failure to provide drug treatment to a pregnant inmate has resulted in county-wide reform.

The settlement of the case also reveals how difficult it is to make systemic change to incarcerated women’s drug treatment since it is fragmented by state and county lines.

Before entering the Lake County Jail in Polson, Montana, in March 2009, Bethany Cajúne was doing well. As part of a yearlong opiate addiction treatment program, she was attending weekly counseling sessions and taking Suboxone, a medication that prevents withdrawal. She was studying for her GED, taking care of her five children, and working to be sober, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on her behalf.

When she turned herself in to the county jail for outstanding traffic violations, she was about four months pregnant.

She arrived at the jail with her Suboxone in hand. Both her drug counselor and her doctor said she should stay on the prescription while in the jail.

There is a general medical consensus that it is dangerous for a woman to stop taking Suboxone while pregnant. Stopping the medication increases the risk of miscarriage or preterm labor; it also causes a pregnant woman to go through withdrawal, which threatens the health of her and her fetus.

But at Lake County Jail, the doctors and nurses would not give Cajúne her Suboxone. She asked repeatedly for the medication, and filed medical complaints. Her doctor called the facility multiple times, warning the sheriff and the jail’s doctor that Cajúne and her fetus were at risk.

Judy Beck, a spokesperson for the Montana Department of Corrections, told Rewire that she could not speak to Lake County Jail’s policies, since the Montana DOC doesn’t have control over county jails.

But in an email, she said, “Suboxone is not on the MT DOC’s formulary list. There is a process for approving use of non-formulary medications. That process is the same for inmates whether they are pregnant or not.”

Without the medicine, Cajúne quickly went into withdrawal. Dehydrated and anxious, she started vomiting and having diarrhea. At one point she fainted in her cell. After nine days at the jail, Cajúne lost about ten pounds.

Instead of giving her Suboxone, guards put Cajúne in solitary confinement, referred her to a psychiatrist, and told her to “tough it out.”

She was still pregnant, but scared that her untreated withdrawal would cause her to miscarry.

Finally a public defender intervened on her behalf, and she was released from the jail. Severely dehydrated, she went to the emergency room, where she was rehydrated and put back on her Suboxone.

The case was settled in 2011; part of the settlement involved a provision that other pregnant women at the county jail would be protected from similar treatment.

“A different case could have implications beyond the specific jail,” Andrew Beck, staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project told Rewire. “The harm was caused by this jail, and the solution was to tell this jail to fix its policies.”

Even at the county level, though, the case made an impact, according to Beck.

“Because the jail agreed to this policy, and we haven’t heard of any other cases, we have every reason to think that this has made an important difference.”

Analysis Human Rights

El Salvador Bill Would Put Those Found Guilty of Abortion Behind Bars for 30 to 50 Years

Kathy Bougher

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

Abortion has been illegal under all circumstances in El Salvador since 1997, with a penalty of two to eight years in prison. Now, the right-wing ARENA Party has introduced a bill that would increase that penalty to a prison sentence of 30 to 50 years—the same as aggravated homicide.

The bill also lengthens the prison time for physicians who perform abortions to 30 to 50 years and establishes jail terms—of one to three years and six months to two years, respectively—for persons who sell or publicize abortion-causing substances.

The bill’s major sponsor, Rep. Ricardo Andrés Velásquez Parker, explained in a television interview on July 11 that this was simply an administrative matter and “shouldn’t need any further discussion.”

Since the Salvadoran Constitution recognizes “the human being from the moment of conception,” he said, it “is necessary to align the Criminal Code with this principle, and substitute the current penalty for abortion, which is two to eight years in prison, with that of aggravated homicide.”

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The bill has yet to be discussed in the Salvadoran legislature; if it were to pass, it would still have to go to the president for his signature. It could also be referred to committee, and potentially left to die.

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would worsen the criminalization of women, continue to take away options, and heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

In recent years, local feminist groups have drawn attention to “Las 17 and More,” a group of Salvadoran women who have been incarcerated with prison terms of up to 40 years after obstetrical emergencies. In 2014, the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) submitted requests for pardons for 17 of the women. Each case wound its way through the legislature and other branches of government; in the end, only one woman received a pardon. Earlier this year, however, a May 2016 court decision overturned the conviction of another one of the women, Maria Teresa Rivera, vacating her 40-year sentence.

Velásquez Parker noted in his July 11 interview that he had not reviewed any of those cases. To do so was not “within his purview” and those cases have been “subjective and philosophical,” he claimed. “I am dealing with Salvadoran constitutional law.”

During a protest outside of the legislature last Thursday, Morena Herrera, president of the Agrupación, addressed Velásquez Parker directly, saying that his bill demonstrated an ignorance of the realities faced by women and girls in El Salvador and demanding its revocation.

“How is it possible that you do not know that last week the United Nations presented a report that shows that in our country a girl or an adolescent gives birth every 20 minutes? You should be obligated to know this. You get paid to know about this,” Herrera told him. Herrera was referring to the United Nations Population Fund and the Salvadoran Ministry of Health’s report, “Map of Pregnancies Among Girls and Adolescents in El Salvador 2015,” which also revealed that 30 percent of all births in the country were by girls ages 10 to 19.

“You say that you know nothing about women unjustly incarcerated, yet we presented to this legislature a group of requests for pardons. With what you earn, you as legislators were obligated to read and know about those,” Herrera continued, speaking about Las 17. “We are not going to discuss this proposal that you have. It is undiscussable. We demand that the ARENA party withdraw this proposed legislation.”

As part of its campaign of resistance to the proposed law, the Agrupación produced and distributed numerous videos with messages such as “They Don’t Represent Me,” which shows the names and faces of the 21 legislators who signed on to the ARENA proposal. Another video, subtitled in English, asks, “30 to 50 Years in Prison?

International groups have also joined in resisting the bill. In a pronouncement shared with legislators, the Agrupación, and the public, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Women (CLADEM) reminded the Salvadoran government of it international commitments and obligations:

[The] United Nations has recognized on repeated occasions that the total criminalization of abortion is a form of torture, that abortion is a human right when carried out with certain assumptions, and it also recommends completely decriminalizing abortion in our region.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights reiterated to the Salvadoran government its concern about the persistence of the total prohibition on abortion … [and] expressly requested that it revise its legislation.

The Committee established in March 2016 that the criminalization of abortion and any obstacles to access to abortion are discriminatory and constitute violations of women’s right to health. Given that El Salvador has ratified [the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights], the country has an obligation to comply with its provisions.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, described the proposal as “scandalous.” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director, emphasized in a statement on the organization’s website, “Parliamentarians in El Salvador are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of millions of women. Banning life-saving abortions in all circumstances is atrocious but seeking to raise jail terms for women who seek an abortion or those who provide support is simply despicable.”

“Instead of continuing to criminalize women, authorities in El Salvador must repeal the outdated anti-abortion law once and for all,” Guevara-Rosas continued.

In the United States, Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) issued a press release on July 19 condemning the proposal in El Salvador. Rep. Torres wrote, “It is terrifying to consider that, if this law passed, a Salvadoran woman who has a miscarriage could go to prison for decades or a woman who is raped and decides to undergo an abortion could be jailed for longer than the man who raped her.”

ARENA’s bill follows a campaign from May orchestrated by the right-wing Fundación Sí a la Vida (Right to Life Foundation) of El Salvador, “El Derecho a la Vida No Se Debate,” or “The Right to Life Is Not Up for Debate,” featuring misleading photos of fetuses and promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion.

The Agrupacion countered with a series of ads and vignettes that have also been applied to the fight against the bill, “The Health and Life of Women Are Well Worth a Debate.”

bien vale un debate-la salud de las mujeres

Mariana Moisa, media coordinator for the Agrupación, told Rewire that the widespread reaction to Velásquez Parker’s proposal indicates some shift in public perception around reproductive rights in the country.

“The public image around abortion is changing. These kinds of ideas and proposals don’t go through the system as easily as they once did. It used to be that a person in power made a couple of phone calls and poof—it was taken care of. Now, people see that Velásquez Parker’s insistence that his proposal doesn’t need any debate is undemocratic. People know that women are in prison because of these laws, and the public is asking more questions,” Moisa said.

At this point, it’s not certain whether ARENA, in coalition with other parties, has the votes to pass the bill, but it is clearly within the realm of possibility. As Sara Garcia, coordinator of the Agrupación, told Rewire, “We know this misogynist proposal has generated serious anger and indignation, and we are working with other groups to pressure the legislature. More and more groups are participating with declarations, images, and videos and a clear call to withdraw the proposal. Stopping this proposed law is what is most important at this point. Then we also have to expose what happens in El Salvador with the criminalization of women.”

Even though there has been extensive exposure of what activists see as the grave problems with such a law, Garcia said, “The risk is still very real that it could pass.”

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

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An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”