Grijalva: Family detention must stop
The practice of holding women and children in detention while they seek asylum must "stop without exception,"U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva said following a visit to two detention centers for immigrant families in south Texas early this week.
In a statement released Thursday, Grijalva blasted the practice of holding women and children in two for-profit detention centers, one in Karnes City about 50 miles north of San Antonio, and the other in Dilley, Texas about 70 miles south of San Antonio at the site of a camp for oil field workers.
Grijalva visited the two facilities on Monday and Tuesday, along with seven other congressional members, including Reps. Joaquin Castro, Judy Chu, Luis Gutierrez, Sheila Jackson Lee, Zoe Lofgren, and Lucille Roybal-Allard.
During their visit at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley on Tuesday, the Congressional members were met with a protest by detainees. Women turned bedsheets into banners, Grijalva said, and children wore pillowcases with pleas for help scrawled on them.
Detainees also chanted, "Quieremos libertad" or "We want freedom," Grijalva said.
"Seeing firsthand the conditions that women and children are forced to endure in family detention centers is nothing short of heartbreaking," said Grijalva. "The unnecessary human suffering at the hands of our government, and for the profit of the private prison industry is wrong, and must stop without exception."
Grijalva argued that Homeland Security should recognize that the people in the facility are seeking asylum and refugee status and should be granted access to legal support, services, and protection in "light of their credible stories."
Homeland Security began holding women and children at several detention centers last summer, when thousands of women and children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras illegally crossed the border — the largest number crossing into in south Texas. By the end of the summer, more than 39,000 "family units" had crossed into the United States.
This year, the overall number of family units coming across the U.S.-Mexico border is roughly half of what is in 2014. However, three Border Patrol sectors have noted increases over last year, including the Yuma Sector, which covers a sliver of Arizona.
U.S. officials responded by repurposing the facility in Karnes County for families, and sending thousands more to temporary holding facilities at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico.
In December, federal officials announced that families in Artesia would be shifted to the South Texas Family Residential Center, which can hold up to 24,000 people.
On Wednesday, bowing to pressure from advocates and lawmakers, Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced that families will no longer be held in detention once they've shown eligibility for asylum or other relief.
Johnson also announced reforms to how monetary bonds or other release conditions are managed, a new federal advisory committee, as well as additional measures to ensure access to counsel, social workers, educational services, and comprehensive medical care.
“In short, once a family has established eligibility for asylum or other relief under our laws, long-term detention is an inefficient use of our resources and should be discontinued,” Johnson said in a statement.
"I understand that DHS is taking some initiative to soften this situation, but it doesn't matter how gilded the cage might be, it's still a cage—it's still a prison for women and children," said Grijalva.
Grijalva also criticized the relationship between federal officials and the private prison industry, saying that the industry was "turning a buck by imprisoning the most vulnerable among us."
The Karnes County facility is run by the GEO Group, a for-profit prison corporation, while the South Texas Residential Center is run by Corrections Corporation of America.
"We must eliminate the monetary gain from this situation," said Grijalva. "Secretary Johnson has to understand that this is not something he can window dress—this fundamentally has to stop."