Photo of Eleni Bakst

Eleni Bakst

  • Hosted by Human Rights First
  • Sponsored by The Ottinger Foundation
  • Service location New York, New York
  • Law school Duke University School of Law
  • Issue area Immigrant Populations
  • Fellowship class year 2017
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

As a result of the global refugee crisis combined with the rapid expansion of immigration detention—what some have called the largest mass incarceration movement in U.S. history—the number of detained asylum seekers has grown exponentially and is expected to expand even further under the Trump Administration. Detention is associated with poorer health outcomes, and when individuals need healthcare in detention, the services are too often inadequate or dangerously substandard. We are also witnessing increasing attacks on asylum seekers through attempts to place additional barriers on seeking asylum, including criminal prosecutions of asylum seekers, widespread denial of parole, and turn-backs at the border.

Eleni is conducting a national review of the state of medical and mental health care in immigration detention alongside health and legal experts and engaging in advocacy on this issue and other barriers to seeking asylum.

Fellowship Highlights

In the first year, Eleni has:

  • Published three reports on immigration detention conditions and healthcare and barriers to seeking asylum in the U.S.
  • Participated in a class-action lawsuit challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s policy of detaining asylum seekers without considering their suitability for release on parole.
  • Traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to monitor the implementation of Attorney General Sessions’ zero-tolerance policy and research the criminal prosecutions of asylum seekers, family separation, and turn-backs of asylum seekers at official ports of entry.
  • Shared findings from recent field research at a shadow hearing on family separation hosted by the House Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform.
  • Led the drafting of an amicus brief submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on the inadequate parole process.

What’s Next

In the next year, Eleni plans to:

  • Conduct fieldwork and research in immigration detention centers in California and publish a follow-up report to use in advocacy efforts to improve conditions and healthcare in these facilities.
  • Continue drafting a major report that will document widespread denial of medical and mental health care in immigration detention centers nationwide. The release of this report will coincide with a nationwide convening of legal and health experts.
  • Continue aiding nationwide litigation efforts to challenge detention policies affecting asylum seekers and barriers to seeking asylum.


Mexican Authorities Are Stopping Unaccompanied Kids From Seeking Asylum In The US At Every Turn

Texas camp for unaccompanied migrant children set to close after multiple extensions

Family Separations Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg at Texas Detention Centers

Bakst '17 receives two-year Equal Justice Works fellowship

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