Diabetic asylum-seeking woman forced to choose deportation due to life-threatening negligent medical care in detention

July 7, 2017

Attorneys, advocates, and congressional representatives demand she receive immediate treatment from endocrinologist

(Austin, Texas) — Last week Austin advocates launched a campaign demanding the release of Brenda Menjivar Guardado, a 21-year-old from El Salvador who came to the U.S. seeking safety. Due to detention center officials' continued refusal to provide proper medical treatment, Brenda has been forced to make the impossible decision of choosing her own voluntary deportation over remaining in detention, where she fears death. She has been transferred to the Laredo Detention Center, known for deplorable medical attention, where she could await deportation for weeks.

Since entering the U.S., Brenda has been experiencing life-threatening symptoms related to improper treatment of type 1 diabetes by medical staff at the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, operated by the private prison company Corrections Corporation of America. Brenda entered the US with proper medication, which was taken away by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She received different medicine in detention, which wasn’t effective - her glucose levels peaked at 452 (normal is 90-100). When she demanded appropriate medication, like she had received previously, Hutto officials told her to drink more water and stated she should go back to El Salvador if she wanted better medical care.

After her urgent health issues came to the attention of her attorney at American Gateways, a non-profit legal organization, they filed a request with an ICE officer at the Hutto Detention Center for her immediate release on grounds of medical emergency. Their request was denied.

The lack of care from detention center staff has caused a rapid deterioration of her health. Her doctor in El Salvador is very concerned that her symptoms, such as blurred vision, rapid weight loss, and difficulty breathing, are the same as when she entered a diabetic coma at age 13. She asked the judge to withdraw her Credible Fear application, the first step in her asylum process, so she can be deported more quickly and access the treatment that she desperately needs.

“Brenda fears return to El Salvador, but she is more immediately concerned about dying in detention,” said Brenda’s attorney, Whitney Drake. “She feels intimidated, confused, and scared for her life.  She was not given a fair chance to have her asylum claim heard.”

Multiple medical professionals who are members of Grassroots Leadership’s Hutto Visitation Program, a group of community members who monitor human rights of immigrants in detention, expressed that Brenda needs emergency medical care.

“Given her blood sugars had been normal using her previous insulin, discarded by Laredo ICE, she is in more danger of going into diabetic ketoacidosis from the current high blood sugar levels than someone who has not maintained normal blood glucose levels,” said nurse practitioner and volunteer Anita Jones, who was able to speak with Brenda in detention. “She has a legal right as well as an ethical right to medical care that will provide the standard of care for diabetes evaluation and management. Her condition is at risk of being life threatening for her.”

A recent human rights report found that more than one-third of the immigrants who died while being held in U.S. detention were given substandard health care, contributing to their deaths. The report comes on the heels of President Trump’s announcement of the administration’s intention to further cut medical and mental health care in detention facilities. The vast majority of these facilities are run by private prison corporations who reap profit from cost-cutting measures like denying access to specialists and offering substandard care.

Despite attorney intervention and community pressure, Brenda remains detained. Advocates continue to demand immediate medical attention. Congressman Doggett’s office, deeply concerned about her welfare, is filing a case inquiry.

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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation and criminalization are things of the past.


Bethany Carson, bcarson@grassrootsleadership.org, 512-499-8111

Robert Painter, robertp@americangateways.org, 608-213-5661