Our Lady of the Lake University
Protestors post signs outside the family detention center in Dilley.
Reports out of family detention centers run by the Department of Homeland Security have been horrific
In detention centers in Texas and other southern states, women and children fleeing violence in Central America have been subjected to physical, mental and sexual abuse. Some are denied necessary medical attention, compounding trauma they may have already experienced.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, wants to put a stop to it.
In a letter
he and 135 other members of the House of Representatives penned this week, Castro asked DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to shutter the agency’s family detention centers.
“Instead of criminalizing women and children who arrive at our borders in desperation, let’s address the problem driving this phenomenon and help foster stable, nonviolent societies in the Central American nations from which these refugees are fleeing,” Castro said.
The newest DHS family detention center is also in the San Antonio Area. Opened in December of 2014, the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley has become a flashpoint for the debate over detaining immigrant families.
The letter comes on the heels of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announcing
that its family detention centers would remain open, but with some operational reforms and additional oversight.
But that wasn’t good enough for Castro and his House colleagues, who want the practice of family detention to be banned altogether.
“The recent announcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on family detention does not acknowledge that even detention for a brief period of time, especially in a secure setting, is detrimental to child development,” the letter said.
The lawmakers cited a study by Luis Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. Zayas’ research with families at the Karnes Residential Center in Karnes County concluded that the children at the center faced “some of the most adverse childhood conditions of any children I have ever interviewed.”
A day after the letter was released, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced that it would release a family of three — a mother named Marta and two children, Zulma and Nilson — from the Karnes Detention Center on parole.
ICE had detained the family, whose last names were not revealed by the agency, for over a year. They had fled from violence in El Salvador. The agency only paroled the family after Zulma's health deteriorated, though the exact ailments were not released.
Immigration reform advocates lauded the family’s release, but couched their praise for DHS.
“While I am elated that Marta, Zulma, and Nilson were granted parole and get to leave detention, I am deeply saddened that it was only after Zulma was hospitalized multiple times that DHS arrived at the decision to grant parole for this family,” said Susannah Volpe, one of the family’s attorneys. “The lack of adequate care that this family has endured is symptomatic of the conditions in family detention facilities.”