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)

We are the mothers, victims of the raids

Tengo miedo – drawing by a child held at Dilley


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 1: Houston Press) (Image Credit 2: El Pais)