Stop Detaining Families at Immigration Detention Centers, Democrats Say

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.