Prison is neither a childcare nor a residential center

Dunia Romero and daughter Stefany.

The United States has built three special hells for immigrant women and children: the Berks Family Residential Center, in Leesport, Pennsylvania; the South Texas Family Residential Center, in Dilley, Texas; and the Karnes County Residential Center, in Karnes City, Texas. U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement is very proud of Karnes. When first opened, ICE boasted, “The Karnes County Residential Center (KCRC) is the first facility housing ICE detainees built from the ground up with ICE’s civil detention standards in mind. It represents a significant milestone in the agency’s long-term effort to reform the immigration detention system.” Last Friday, April 29, despite numerous `deficiencies’, Karnes was issued a temporary residential childcare license. Rather than a significant milestone in any attempt to reform anything, this is just another scene in the theater of cruelty that is immigration policy. Prison is neither a childcare nor a residential facility. Ask Dunia Romero and her fifteen-year-old daughter Stefany; ask Josie and her ten-year old son Manuel; ask Susana Arévalo Hernández and her two children; ask the mothers of Berks, Dilley, Karnes, and to a person they will tell you the same thing: “This is a prison. We fled violence and you have treated us as criminals. Why?” End the torture of women and children, and while you’re at it, stop the abuse of language and common sense. Prison is not childcare.

Yesterday, Dunia Romero and her daughter joined dozens of other undocumented mothers and children in a demonstration outside the White House. They are part of the Esperanza que Florece – Blooming Hope campaign, urging people to send Mother’s Day postcards to four prominent and influential mothers: Michelle Obama, Jill Biden, Celia Muñoz, Valerie Jarrett. The postcards call for an end to “family detention.”

Yesterday, as well, a judge in Austin granted a temporary restraining order to stop the Dilley prison from being licensed until a full court hearing on May 13. While it’s only a temporary stay, it’s an important step, and it was initiated by a lawsuit filed by two women prisoners of Dilley and Grassroots Leadership. The Karnes prison retains its license.

Today, the Center for American Progress released A Short-Term Plan to Address the Central American Refugee Situation, which noted, “The administration should close the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas, and release those detained mothers and children who do not pose a security or flight risk that cannot otherwise be mitigated … The administration should create short-term processing centers for families upon arrival that function like shelters rather than prisons. These centers would give families the ability to get their bearings in the United States; attend legal orientations and connect with pro bono counsel; and receive medical, mental health, and other needed care.”

This Mother’s Day, various groups – including currently and formerly imprisoned women and children refugees, legal teams, advocacy groups, and just plain folks – again attempt to move the State to turn its prisons into shelters and its swords into welcoming arms. Please consider joining others by sending a postcard, the link is here. Honor Mothers’ Day this year by joining the fight to release imprisoned immigrant mothers and children and by ending family detention now.

(Photo credit: Armando Trull / WAMU)

Honor Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf by shutting down the detention centers

Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf

In England, today, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) joined a local ngo, Migrants Organise, to award Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf the Woman of the Year Award. Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf fled Somalia years ago, landing up in Kenya, and then moved on to the United Kingdom. She knew no English, had no friends or acquaintances there, and knew nothing about asylum processes. She just knew she deserved to live with dignity and respect. Yusuf left her family, in particular her children, behind, and has not been able to contact them. Par for the course, Yusuf was dumped in Yarl’s Wood, days after arriving, and then denied asylum. She’s been appealing that decision for eight years. During the asylum process, the applicant cannot work, and so Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf is meant to beg. But instead she sings and speaks out and organizes. She is the woman of the year, and it is a year, another year, of shame and hope.

Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf moved to Manchester, found a place to live with other women asylum seekers, and joined WAST, Women Asylum Seekers Together. Together, Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf and her sisters have called, sung, stamped, chanted and organized to shut down Yarl’s Wood, and to shut down all detention centers. From Australia to the United Kingdom to the United States, abolition is in the air, and its current stations are immigrant detention centers. A global forest of hashtags is sprouting, from #ShutDownBerks to #ShutDownYarlsWood and #SetHerFree to #LetThemStay, individuals are forming local groups that are becoming national organizations that are becoming international, from Juntos to Women for Refugee Women and Movement for Justice to the International Alliance Against Mandatory Detention, made up of Australian activists living around the world. Another world is possible.

As nation-States built more and more special hells for women asylum seekers and for immigrant and migrant women, generally, the women organized and said, NO! We are not animals, we are humans. We are not trash, we are women. They also spoke for their children, who were daily being crushed by the prison experience. Their children cry out, “I am not a criminal. I don’t want to be locked up here anymore.”

The abuse of children in detention centers in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States is torture, and it’s a crime against humanity, which is being called out and judged now. When a judge says that 3- and 4-year-old children can represent themselves in court, he has done more than condemn the process. He has shown what happens to the rule of law when it discounts the humanity of those who enter not only the court, but also the land itself. His tortured logic emerges as part of a systematic application of torture as a form of reasoned jurisprudence.

That system of torture is global, and it focuses on women and children.

Berks is inhumane and abusive, and even the lawmakers say so. Yarl’s Wood is a house of shame. Nauru, Villawood and all the Australian solutions to the crisis of human beings seeking help are one giant pit of disgrace. In each case, the arc of atrocity is expanding, infecting structures from education to health care but also the ways in which we view one another and ourselves. The debt that the abuse of asylum seekers creates is trauma for the asylum seekers and daily and increasing loss of our humanity.

Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf is the woman of the year, because another world is possible. Tomorrow, led by Movement for Justice, thousands will gather around Yarl’s Wood and raise a ruckus. Thousands are organizing across the United States to shut down Berks, Dilley and Karnes as well. Across Australia, people are organizing not only to shut down the detention centers and the entire juridical apparatus that feeds the monster. They are wondering if this is “the moment” in which we will join in solidarity, across oceans and borders. Maybe it is. One thing is certain. We’ve passed enough-is-enough. The time is now. #ShutDownYarlsWood #SetHerFree #LetThemStay #ShutDownBerks #Not1More #NeverAgain Do it for Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf, and for all the women and children. Until the prisons are closed, we are all imprisoned.

 

(Photo Credit: WorldPost / Rifat Ahmed) (Video Credit: Women for Refugee Women / YouTube)

We are the mothers, victims of the raids

Susana Arévalo Hernández and her two children have left the South Texas Family Residential Center, that special hell the United States paid Texas to build in Dilley. Arévalo was one of a number of women and children picked up in raids in early January, picked up, thrown around, and dumped into cages like so much trash. Since her imprisonment, Arévalo has suffered seven epileptic seizures. Her six-year-old son lives with a learning disability. What happened to Susana Arévalo Hernández is the ordinary torture of women who seek asylum.

Susana Arévalo Hernández fled gang violence in El Salvador to run straight into State violence in the United States. According to various reports, ICE agents lied to gain access to her home, and herself and her children. Doctors report that her condition in detention imperils her health and life. Lawyers report that every day in prison is a further violation of her and her children’s human rights and rights to due process. None of this matters. While Arévalo walked, other women and children remain in Dilley detention.

Here’s what should matter: “Every time I have a seizure, I think I’m not coming back. I don’t want my children to see that.” A mother’s concern for her children should matter. It doesn’t.

Susana Arévalo Hernández was one of seven women who wrote a letter to President Obama, which reads, in part: “We are the mothers, victims of the raids … We would like to ask you for our freedom from this unjust detention … We complied with everything that was asked of us, but the system that failed us, just because we came to this country to seek protection, because we couldn’t go back to our countries of origin due to being exposed to so much violence and threats against us and our children. That’s why we came to this country to request asylum … We are not criminals who you have to keep locked up. We have not committed any crime and it is unjust that our children, at such an early age, know what it’s like to be in a jail under guard 24 hours, when at this moment they should be in school living life with dignity like every child deserves to … We need to be free as human beings to be able to fight our cases outside with dignity.”

Ana Silvia Orellana, Dominga Rivas, Elsy Monge López, Gloria Díaz Rivas, Isamar Sanchez Chicas, Marta María Hernández and Susana Arévalo Hernández signed that letter. They represented 12 families imprisoned in Dilley and Berks County, in Pennsylvania. The twelve families add up to 33 women and children. This is the arithmetics of asylum in the United States today: lies, violence, indignity, criminalization, and more intense violence. Why must a Central American woman be on death’s door to get a hearing? Why must Central American children and their mothers live in an atmosphere of fear and a reign of terror? What sort of democracy is that?

Dear President Obama … We are the mothers

(Image Credit: El Pais)

Texas built a special hell for immigrant women and children

Today, December 18, 2014, is International Migrants Day. On December 18, 1990, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. What better way to honor that convention than to build the biggest, baddest prison for migrant women and children? Welcome to Texas, welcome to the United States of America, welcome to hell.

Here’s how the United States builds hell. First, constitute migrants and immigrants as a threat. Include asylum seekers and refugees in this. Then, quickly translate threat into criminal element. Then build the prisons, et voilà! Hell! Homeland Security keeps building prisons for immigrants and migrants. It builds “family detention centers” for women and children. It then outsources the job to a limited number of mega companies. They keep failing at the job and then keep getting new contracts. The prisons keep “running into difficulties”, ranging from lack of health care and education and recreational facilities to overcrowding to sexual exploitation and violence by the staff.

Early this week, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson toured a site in Dilley, Texas, that `promises’ to be the largest “family residential center” in the country. By end of May, it will hold 2400 “family members,” overwhelmingly women and children, overwhelmingly from Central America. Meanwhile, earlier in December, after some debate and resistance, Karnes County agreed to expand its “family residence” from under 600 to close to 1200 beds. Forcing children and women to live behind razor wire is a growth industry in south Texas this year. Homeland Security sees dropping children into cages as “a deterrent.”

Here’s a typical story from Karnes: “Ana and Victor are from El Salvador, and along with their mother, Alta Gracias, and their 2-year-old brother, Martín, they have been held at the Karnes detention facility for over two months … As the years passed and her children grew up, Alta worried about raising her children in an environment rife with extreme poverty and violence … She was afraid her daughter’s pretty face and her son’s rambunctious spirit would get them into trouble. So she did what any good parent would do: look for a brighter future for her children. Because her husband was already in the United States, it seemed like the best option, despite the hazardous journey.”

Here’s another typical story from Karnes: “This fall, Zadia and her son Jose came to the United States to escape years of physical abuse by her common-law husband. With the help of members of their church, Zadia and Jose fled Honduras. But rather than find refuge, they have been locked up for the last seven weeks in Karnes City, Texas, at one of the federal government’s new detention centers for migrant families.”

The typical is actually worse. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and others have written letters, filed complaints, and sued the Federal government because of the conditions at Karnes. MALDEF has documented numerous cases of sexual abuse, extortion and harassment of women. The ACLU cites numerous women, who fled domestic violence at home, only to be locked behind bars in Texas.

None of this is new. It repeats the violence against women that marked T. Don Hutto Residential Center, five years ago also in Texas, and the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona and the Artesia “Family Residential Center” in New Mexico. Everyone of them a colossal snake pit of sexual violence, extortion, harassment of women and children. Everyone of them a death-in-life sentence for hundreds and thousands of children and their mothers. Each time the violence is “discovered”, the “residents” are shipped like so much cargo to the next killing field.

Honor International Migrants Day by celebrating the miracle of freedom, freedom of movement, association, life, choice and love. Celebrate the miracle of being truly human. Close the prisons. Tear down the walls. Beat the guns into plowshares and the barbed wire and batons into pruning hooks. Welcome the migrants with open arms. Welcome the stranger as yourself.

 

(Image Credit: NewInt.org)