Samira Hakimi was six months into what was supposed to be a maximum three-month-long stay at a South Texas immigrant detention center when she tried to take her own life.
“They told us you will only be a couple of days in there,” Hakimi, an 31-year-old Afghan national, told the Huffington Post
in an interview. “I never thought that I would be detained here for such a long time. That I’m detained here because I’m from Afghanistan and that’s all. But I’m human.”
Hakimi's private lawyers say she attempted suicide in hopes it would free her young children from the prison-like detention center. It's an act of desperation that's become eerily commonplace
in U.S. immigrant detention facilities, where federal immigration officials sometimes hold detainees for months without explanation. Many have fled violence and oppression in their home countries only to end their life in a U.S. holding cell, victims of the crippling depression and stress that comes with modern immigrant detention.
Hakimi originally entered the U.S. with her husband, two young children, her brother, and her brother's wife and newborn child. In Afghanistan, the family had run a private high school and university that followed a Western curriculum, taught in English and offered scholarships to women — all clashing with Taliban tradition. After years of constant violent threats from Taliban officials, Hakimi's lawyers say the family decided to pack up and start over in the U.S.
The group requested asylum when they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into Brownsville in December. The two men were sent to a detention center in Port Isabel, and the women and kids to the South Texas Family Detention Center in the town of Dilley — but were later transferred to the Karnes County Residential Center outside San Antonio.
Hakimi and her sister-in-law entered detention a year after a federal judge ruled that immigration officials cannot hold families for extended periods of time, which generally meant under three weeks. But Hakimi and her children, ages 4 and 8, have been stuck in detention for six months. They've watched dozens of families come and go, but for some unknown reason, it's never them. Hakimi became incredibly depressed.
Hakimi told the Huffington Post
that while detention staff offered her medication and therapy, nothing could fix the depression that came with a life locked in detention with her children. It's a type of "reactive" depression that multiple
mental health experts have discovered
goes hand-in-hand with immigrant detention.
Legal aides with San Antonio's Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) who had been working with Hakimi since she first entered Karnes — and were well-aware of her declining mental heath — kept sending letters requesting her family's release to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"ICE denied every request and they never explained why," said Amy Fischer, RAICES Policy Director. She has yet to hear back from RAICES' most recent May 19th request.
Fischer said that Hakimi finally had a hearing for asylum on May 4, two weeks before she attempted suicide. She told RAICES the judge had said it could take 45 days until they make a decision. Which, according to Fischer, is an "unusually long" amount of time for this kind of ruling. RAICES has asked the public to call the local ICE field office
and demand Hakimi's release (along with the rest of her family).
After her suicide attempt, Hakimi was sent to a nearby hospital and watched by ICE guards like a prison inmate. She has since returned to Karnes. Her family remains in detention lockups across Texas.
This isn't the America Hakimi expected. She told the Huffington Post
her main reason for leaving Afghanistan was to give her children a life of freedom.
"They have their lives to live," she said. "They should live happy and free from every small thing, going to school and enjoying their lives.”