A group of Democratic lawmakers called for the Obama administration to stop holding families at immigration detention centers in Texas.
“I recently had a meeting with the bishop of San Jose, a Catholic bishop, and he asked me: what keeps you awake at night? And I said one of the things that keeps me awake at night is the memory of the faces of the women in those jails,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said at an “End Family Detention” forum on Capitol Hill.
“I remember, as we were at Karnes, like a hundred woman running up to me holding their little children in their arms crying, explaining that they wanted to get out,” she added.
Sonia Hernandez of El Salvador, who entered the U.S. with her children illegally, told the forum the conditions at the Karnes County Residential Center are poor. GEO Group operates the center under the direction of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Hernandez, a former detainee, said all of the mothers in the center had decided to do a hunger strike in protest of the conditions.
“Immigration threatened to take my children,” she said with the help of a translator. “I told them if you promise to take care of my children and make sure they are fed and cared for then fine, because what I want is for my children to be taken care of the best way possible.”
She told the members of Congress at the forum that the family detention centers should be closed.
“We all have the right to freedom and we all have the freedom to seek a better life,” Hernandez said.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Texas) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) recently toured Karnes as well as the South Texas Family Residential Center, which opened late last year, with a congressional delegation.
The cost to run the facility reportedly totals $296 per day for each detainee.
“Frankly, we want to send a message that our border is not open to illegal migration, and if you come here, you should not expect to simply be released,” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said at the opening of the facility.
Lofgren said the U.S. should not detain women and children.
“That isn’t to say everyone who comes here has the right to stay here forever. There are laws that are going to be applied and processes. You have to meet the standards. You should have the opportunity to be heard in an orderly way, but certainly locking up women and children in a jail is not what America is all about,” she said.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee recently ruled that the detention of a migrant family with their mother violates a 1997 court settlement.
Early this month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Richard Rocha said DHS determined reconsideration is appropriate for “custody decisions” related to arriving families that establish eligibility for asylum or other relief under the nation’s laws.
“Going forward, ICE will generally not detain mothers with children, absent a threat to public safety or national security, if they have received a positive finding for credible or reasonable fear and the individual has provided a verifiable residential address,” he said.
“As a result, DHS will be releasing eligible family units after a review has been conducted. Such eligible individuals will generally be released on Orders of Recognizance or Orders of Supervision, subject to appropriate conditions.”
Rocha said the field office monitoring a family member’s case would determine the appropriate Alternative to Detention (ATD) program levels throughout immigration court proceedings.