A Salvadoran woman who suffered seven seizures while being held in an immigration detention center has finally been released, according to officials in Texas. The woman’s release follows weeks of outcry from advocates who were concerned her health was deteriorating in detention without proper medical care.
Susana Arévalo was arrested at the beginning of the new year in the first round of controversial immigration raids authorized by the Obama administration. Ever since, she’s been detained at the Dilley family detention center in Texas.
Arévalo, a 27-year-old mother of two who is originally from El Salvador, said being in detention worsened the medical condition that causes her seizures. She began to have them more frequently. A doctor who examined her while she was detained agreed that her health appeared to be declining, saying her seizures were triggered by increased “stress and anxiety.”
“For me it’s very bad with this medical condition,” she said in a phone interview with the Houston Chronicle last week, speaking from the detention center. “They can see that every day I’m here I get worse, but the authorities won’t do anything. They don’t know what to do.”
Concerned about increased numbers of Central American immigrants crossing the U.S. border, federal officials have spent the past several weeks rounding up mothers and children and sending them to detention centers like Dilley to await deportation proceedings. The administration says this crackdown will deter other people from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala from trying to illegally enter the United States.
These raids have been harshly criticized for spreading fear throughout immigrant communities — particularly among people like Arévalo, who are seeking asylum in the U.S. so they don’t have to be sent back to the gang violence in their home countries. Even U.S. government officials have acknowledged that El Salvador is one of the most dangerous places in the world.
Arévalo was one of seven immigrant woman who made a personal appeal to President Obama last week to stop the raids and release them from detention. “Why did you choose us to make an example of to frighten other Central American families, with no regard for the suffering it causes us and our children?” they wrote in a letter to the president. “We need to be free like human beings to be able to fight our cases outside with dignity.”
Arévalo’s specific case attracted attention from activists across the country, who argued immigration detention was threatening her basic safety and wellbeing.
On Friday afternoon, Arévalo was released and dropped off at a Greyhound bus station in San Antonio. Agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told the press that they make decisions about custody “on a case-by-case basis” and did not elaborate about why Arévalo was being released.
More than 100 immigrants have been arrested since the raids began in early January. According to ICE, about 80 percent of those people have since been deported.