Yesterday, eight House Democrats spent several hours meeting with detained mothers and their children at the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes, Texas.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, who led the Congressional delegation, called it “a very emotional visit,” with one mother saying she and her child have been detained at the facility for nearly a year.
“A quarter of that child’s life has been in a detention center. It’s all that he knows,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez told KSAT News.
“What did they do wrong? They appeared before agents of the government of the United States and said, ‘Help me.’”
The members of Congress announced their plans to tour the Karnes facility and talk to detained families last week, with a visit to a second facility in Dilley, Texas scheduled for later today.
Advocates have condemned detaining mothers and their children — many fleeing violence in Central American nations — and say families should be afforded more humane alternatives to detention.
Earlier this month, a 19-year-old mother detained at Karnes attempted suicide after her asylum claim was denied. And at the very same facility in April, a group of detained mothers launched a hunger strike demanding their release.
“What I saw today did nothing but confirm my belief walking through the door that we should end the jailing of women and children in these proceedings,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren told the San Antonio Current about yesterday’s visit to the facility.
“It is by its nature punitive, whether it is intended to be or not.”
Rep. Lofgren said some of the detained women claimed they’d been held in solitary confinement, which confirms a report from Huffington Post that some of the mothers who participated in April’s hunger strike were also placed in isolation as punishment.
According to KSAT, mothers were given contact information to Congressional offices in case they suffered any similar punishment for sharing their stories:
The delegation said the women and children spoke to them freely.
“They had hope in their eyes,” Castro said.
But the mothers were given congressional business cards and phone numbers, and they were urged to call collect if they suffered any retribution.
Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-05) said he doubts Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson would stand for that.
Still the delegation said they would follow up with the women in a conference call.
Hoyer said, “These women showed the courage to come forward to tell us of their plight.”