(AUSTIN, Texas) — Mothers and children who are asylum seekers detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at a for-profit detention center in Karnes City have mounting complaints about their harsh treatment and unduly severe detention conditions.
Advocates from the University of Texas Civil Rights and Immigration Clinics, along with the Law Office of Javier N. Maldonado, sent a letter today to the ICE official in charge of the Karnes facility and to ICE officials in Washington, D.C. The letter notes numerous problems with the treatment of children, such as not being given enough food in-between meal-times; not being allowed to keep toys and playthings in their rooms; infants are not allowed to crawl and move about freely; and older children are separated from their mothers in order to maximize the number of facility beds being used. Women have also reported inappropriate child care arrangements by unlicensed guards, and threats of discipline when children get “too loud.” The letter notes that these and other unduly restrictive conditions threaten the children’s health, well-being, and development.
Women at the facility also have difficulties communicating with their lawyers and family members by telephone, because of exorbitant phone calling rates and a facility messaging system that does not deliver messages on time to the women. Women and their children lack adequate medical and mental health services, despite the fact that as ICE knows many of the families underwent significant trauma in their home countries, on the basis of which they are seeking asylum. Guards have told some families that if children misbehave or if they violate facility rules, the mothers will be forcibly separated from their children.
Ranjana Natarajan, Director of the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic said: “Putting children behind bars, especially children whose families are escaping persecution and violence, is inhumane. These families need counseling and support while they seek asylum. Locking them up when they do not pose any danger is unnecessary and harmful.”
The Karnes family detention center, which opened on August 1, 2014, detains over five hundred mothers and their children, some as young as three months old. The facility is run by a private, for-profit prison company called The GEO Group, Inc. The detention center is not licensed under Texas state child welfare standards, making oversight impossible. The GEO Group has a long track record of abuse and neglect inside their facilities, including facilities holding juveniles and immigrants.
Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership, said: “Even though for-profit immigration detention has resulted in serious abuses of immigrants and asylum seekers, the government keeps expanding detention. The government is not learning its lesson—that the detention model does not work because it is unnecessarily harsh and punitive and destroys families.”
Immigrant and human rights advocates from across the country and Texas have called on the federal government to immediately close the Karnes facility and find alternatives to detaining women and children. Families should not be held in detention facilities, much less by those operated by for-profit, private prisons companies with a track record of abusing families and children in their custody.
Advocates have also noted that family detention of women and children seeking asylum violates human rights law and due process. Despite the calls to end family detention, the Department of Homeland Security is making plans to build a 2500-bed family detention facility in Dilley, Texas.
Barbara Hines, Co-Director of the University of Texas Immigration Clinic and co-counsel in the lawsuit to close the last infamous T.Don Hutto family detention center, said: “We are seeing the very same problems that we encountered at the T. Don Hutto family detention center. Family detention is very harmful for children. All children deserve to live freely. The government must find less restrictive alternatives for children and their parents, most of whom are asylum seekers, and end family detention.”