Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

Volunteer Delivers Bottled Water for Detainee Mothers at Karnes

International human rights agency the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) expressed outrage this afternoon upon learning of a transgression of the civil rights and personal privacy of a young resident and graduate student in San Antonio, Texas, by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office.

A volunteer with the Texas Interfaith Welcome Coalition (IWC), Yasmina Codina learned on April 4 that ICE had contacted her employers at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), asking questions about Codina’s activities outside of work and school. The call followed within a few hours of Codina’s visit to the Karnes detention center with other IWC volunteers to deliver bottled water.

In a letter to U.S. Representative Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, Codina said she had joined with the women’s interfaith coalition to help deliver water when the group was informed about the Central American refugees’ hunger fast. The women were asking for their release from detention as qualifying asylum seekers and as a demand that their human rights be respected.

“How far will ICE go?” asks UUSC Senior Program Leader Rachel Gore Freed.

Codina told Rep. Castro, “As an individual, I fear that this type of action taken by the federal government could jeopardize my current employment and academic course of study, as well as my future standing within this or other academic institutions.

“As a voter and U.S. citizen, I am concerned that any person’s participation with a faith-based community effort would result in a federal law enforcement agency contacting their employer or academic advisor,” she said. Codina is a graduate student and a graduate assistant at UTSA.

“To be clear, all I did was deliver bottled water to women being held with their young children in a private, for-profit detention center who would otherwise have to purchase it from the facility-run commissary,” she told Castro.

“I fear for my own security and privacy,” she said. “If I am being harassed for delivering water, I cannot imagine what these women and children must be experiencing behind closed doors.”

Codina asked for Rep. Castro’s assistance to ensure that “this type of aggressive invasion into one’s liberty and privacy does not happen ever again.”

Rachel Freed is UUSC’s senior program leader for the agency’s Rights at Risk program. Freed said, “We’ve continuously been appalled at the government’s treatment of these refugee families. Now it’s even more absurd to learn that the government is cracking down on U.S. citizen volunteers who are trying to help these women and provide them something as basic as water.”

Mothers have reported repeatedly about the Karnes center’s tap water quality and expressed fears about their children drinking it.

In a visit to Karnes earlier this year, UUSC’s Freed reported signs of malnutrition and dehydration of both small children and mothers, with some showing “hair falling out in chunks.”

U.S. ‘creating zone of exclusion at our border’

“Our government is going against international human rights standards laid out to protect refugees and children,” Freed said.

“The U.S. government has created a zone of exclusion at our border where we are making exceptions to basic human rights obligations of even our own citizens.”

Related development: Hunger striking detainee released from Karnes today

In a related development, RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), UUSC’s partner in San Antonio, announced Thursday afternoon that Kenia Galeano and her 2-year-old son have been released from Karnes on $7,500 bond, while she awaits her pending application for asylum status in the U.S.

On March 30, Galeano and her toddler were placed in a “dark room,” what the facility calls its medical room. The action was reportedly taken by ICE as retaliation against mothers who were planning to start a hunger strike the next day.