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What I Saw at the Detention Center

February 27, 2015

As a human rights lawyer and a mother of a toddler, I was personally struck by what I saw on my visit to Karnes detention center in Karnes City, Texas, this past week. Refugee women and children, who have come to the United States seeking asylum, are being held in jail-like conditions.

I traveled to Karnes on behalf of UUSC to investigate. Here are just a few of the things that I learned from interviewing women there and observing them and their children:

  • There are many sick children. But the children are only allowed to see a doctor once their fevers cross a certain threshold temperature.
  • When children do see a doctor, the mothers aren’t told what medications the children are given. It takes volunteers and legal representatives four to five weeks to get a copy of these medical records.
  • The refugees are offered unsuitable food, and children are not eating. As a result, a significant number of the women and children face malnourishment — and all the children I met have lost weight since their arrival.
  • Every woman I met complained about the quality of the drinking water. They observed that the guards all drink bottled water, but the women are not provided any — and I know how important it is for nursing mothers to remain hydrated.
  • I heard about one detained mother with a one-month-old baby. The woman is so malnourished that she hasn’t been able to nurse her child. Her child has been unable to digest formula. Other mothers work, earning $3 a day, just to buy oatmeal or other food this woman could stomach. Guards refuse to offer other options.
  • Babies are not allowed to crawl. They must be held in their mothers’ arms at all times, which prevents children from learning to crawl, pulling themselves up, and otherwise developing.

Over 2,200 UUSC supporters have already signed this petition, and it has been presented to an ICE representative at a Texas field office. We are building momentum. Since that initial delivery, a judge has made national news with his order preventing ICE from pursuing automatic detention of all women and children from Central America.

This may sound like a positive sign — but unfortunately, there are still many ways for the government to jail refugee women and children. ICE will continue to request impossibly high bonds, which we’ve seen judges continuously grant for these women and children, who cross the border with almost nothing.

We at UUSC want to keep the pressure on ICE, and this petition is one of the ways that we can do that.

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