Texas police refuse to take immigrant woman with schizophrenia to hospital after ICE request: Tania Silva, 21, was arrested after her family called in a... https://t.co/mFNoNRmgkk pic.twitter.com/hvEu4kIoj2— CITIZENS for CHANGE™ ?? (@cfcpac) July 28, 2018
Texas police department are refusing to release a 21-year-old schizophrenic immigrant from jail, even though her family and immigrant rights advocates are warning them the woman is in dire need of medical care.
Tania Silva was arrested by police in Austin, Texas, 14 days ago after her parents filed a report she had gone missing without a word, probably because of a mental health emergency. She was later charged with assault and detained after she reportedly hit back at officers while in handcuffs.
Silva’s family members filed a missing person’s report in July, claiming the young woman did not return home from an Austin community college where she was studying to become a veterinarian.
Silva, who is from Mexico, appeared instead on the front lawn of an Austin woman’s home, with a puppy in her arms.
The woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Independent, said she could see the young woman was clearly in need of help and she was able to invite her inside her home and give her water. She said Silva did not recall her name or where she lived but the puppy was apparently helping her relax. The woman then called emergency medical services which could help Silva.
However, instead of the EMS, a police car showed up at the woman’s house and the two police officers reassured her that they were here in response to a missing person report. An EMS vehicle also arrived by that time but police said they had the situation under control.
During that time, Silva remained docile and even reportedly sat in the police car. But then the officers took away her puppy. At that time, the woman who had called the EMS told The Independent she heard screaming and turned around to see Silva on the ground with her hand and feet bounds. Apparently, she had attacked the officers when the puppy was taken away, kicking one cops and digging her nails into another.
“As I told the police officer, I said, ‘if you were going to take the puppy away why didn’t you tell me?’” the woman said. “I held the puppy for a few minutes in the midst of my conversation with the young lady.”
“The young lady did not become aggressive until they took the puppy away from her,” she added.
Since then, Silva has been in the custody of the Travis County Correctional Facility and in desperate need of medical help. However, she cannot be sent to a hospital for 24-hour medical care because of a recent Texas anti-immigrant law that forces police to cooperate with immigration enforcement agencies.
The SB4 bill, which was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in March limits sanctuary cities — which Austin was, before the law was passed — to cooperate with federal immigration officials’ requests.
“SB4 is a Texas law that forces local governments and law enforcement agencies to do the work of federal immigration officers. It punishes local officials who choose to prioritize their communities’ safety over the anti-immigrant agenda of politicians, diverts precious local resources away from communities to serve the needs of the federal government, corrodes public trust in law enforcement, and drives victims and witnesses of crime into the shadows, making everyone less safe,” ACLU Texas said of the law.
“Situations like this are heartbreaking and unfortunately, not uncommon. We deal with this issue on a daily basis in our jails as men and women suffering a mental health crisis are arrested and booked instead of being diverted to treatment facilities. A person’s immigration status compounds the matter. This is one of the reasons I continue to oppose SB4. It denies law enforcement the discretion to do the right thing for the right reason,” said Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez.
“We are worried … because she is sometimes not able to speak or function properly. Her mother told us that they are giving her medicine she used to take in the past but stopped taking because it was causing her damage to her heart,” said Mayra Huerta, an organizer with the Workers Defense Project, which is representing Silva.
Silva’s current detention is technically because she assaulted an officer — although neither officer sought medical treatment, according to their records —and she can post bail any time and get out of jail, said a sheriff’s spokesperson. However, her family is afraid to do so because they believe Silva would then simply be arrested by the ICE agents and transported to an immigration detention facility in another state.
Activists stress how dangerous such arrests can be for immigrants in Texas, in light of the new law.
“This is sort of the intersection of … very broken systems. We have a criminal justice system that doesn’t know how to deal with mental health. We have the immigration system, which is further complicating this case,” said Emily Timm who works with the Worker’s Defense Action Fund.
“If it were not for the ICE hold she would be able to get out and get into in patient medical care, have access to her family who hasn’t seen her since she was arrested. To have that support to hopefully get better,” she added.
Detention facilities do not have the greatest record when it comes to mental health treatment and poses a grave risks to those who suffer from mental illnesses, even though prisons have a legal obligation to provide such care for inmates.
“Detention can be a difficult situation for a person experiencing alive symptoms of mental illness to be in. It can exacerbate those symptoms and it is not the therapeutic environment that a person needs,” Greg Hasch, the public policy director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Texas affiliate, said. “This can be a life or death situation,”
Silva’s sister said she and her family have not been able to visit her, even though they think seeing a familiar face would help her deal with her medical condition.
“When she’s not ill, when she’s not having a mental crisis, she’s a normal person,” she said. “People see her and know she is a normal person. She’s really calm. Everyone who knows her knows that.”
Banner/Thumbnail Credits: REUTERS/Carlos Barria