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Feds Deny Children Health Care, ACLU Says

MANHATTAN (CN) - The ACLU claims the Department of Health and Human Services and its private contractors are denying imprisoned refugee children access to reproductive health care, contraception and abortion. Thousands of unaccompanied children in federal and private prisons - victims of rape, torture, human trafficking and forced labor and prostitution - are denied essential services, the ACLU says in its federal FOIA complaint.

Neither the government nor its contractors can constitutionally deny the imprisoned children access to reproductive health care based on the government's or contractors' religious beliefs, the ACLU says.

This problem is acute because the government has a dearth of prison space for noncriminal child refugees and immigrants, who cannot legally be imprisoned with adults.

The Department of Homeland Security and its creatures, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, therefore rely heavily upon religious groups to imprison the immigrant children. The religious groups apparently believe sincerely that they are providing a service to the children, though many immigration lawyers insist that that is not the case: that if the private contractors refused to imprison children as a favor to the federal government, the DHS and ICE would have to let the children go to their destinations.

The ACLU demands "release of agency records related to the federal government and its contractors' policies regarding vital reproductive health care, such as abortion and contraception, for the thousands of unaccompanied undocumented and refugee minors in the custody of the federal government and its contractors."

"These young people are extremely vulnerable - many have come to the United States to flee abuse and torture; they have been separated from their families; and many have been sexually abused or assaulted either in their home countries or during their long journey to the United States. Some have also been trafficked for labor or prostitution in other countries or in the United States," the complaint states.

"These young people are completely dependent on the government and its contractors for day-to-day care, such as clothing, food, medical care, and shelter. Moreover, the federal government and its contractors often restrict their mobility and closely monitor their activities.

"Despite their vulnerability, dependences, and isolation, plaintiff believes that the federal government and its contractors strictly limit these teens' access to, and referrals for, reproductive health care, such as contraceptives and abortion. ...

"Denial of such services and referrals also violates their legal rights. For example, defendants' contractors that provide care to unaccompanied, undocumented minors are legally obligated to provide or arrange for family planning services. Moreover, the government and its contractors cannot constitutionally obstruct or prevent access to contraception and abortion for the teens in their care and custody. Nor can the government allow its contractors to obstruct access to contraception and abortion based on their religious beliefs."

The ACLU says the HHS and the Administration for Children and Families have blown off its requests for records. Lead counsel is Brigitte Amiri.

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