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Social Worker Describes “Deplorable” Conditions While Working At Karnes Family Detention Center

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As advocates applaud a judge’s ruling that holding women and children in detention violates a 1997 court decision, a social worker will today testify about the “deplorable” conditions she witnessed while working at the Karnes detention facility in Texas.

From Esther Lee of ThinkProgress:

At a Judiciary Democrats’ Forum on Family Detention set for Tuesday, Olivia Lopez, a former worker who worked at the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes, Texas, will testify that she saw young children who regressed developmentally, detainees who were placed in isolation for speaking out, and superiors who wanted a “clean paper trail” because the facility was under constant audits, McClatchy DC first reported.

Lopez will also be joined by two formerly-detained women at the forum, which is being organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Democratic Members of the House Judiciary Committee, and the Congressional Tri-Caucuses.

According to the report from Lee, Lopez regularly witnessed horror stories during her employment at the facility, including staff members ignoring a young victim of sexual assault in dire need of medical assistance:

In an interview with McClatchy, Lopez said, “I walked in and thought, ‘oh my Lord, this is really a prison.’” She said that while there were state-of-the-art medical equipment and recreational activities for both mothers and children, the detainees were always locked up and that “they know they’re in a prison. They know they can’t leave.”

Lopez also indicated that if a migrant mother had an issue, Lopez was only able to write down what the detainee asked and give her information on how to access services. Because the facility was the subject of various audits, Lopez stated that she had to ensure a “clean” document. “If a document is clean, there aren’t any follow-ups,” she told the paper. “The audit stops at the document.”

One five-year-old child who was the victim of sexual assault during her journey regressed to the point of wearing a diaper. But when Lopez informed the psychologist, he dismissed the allegations and wrote a note stating that the young girl was fine.

Earlier this year, Lee also described facility staff members retaliating against mothers who were staging a hunger strike to protest their detention:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers took away internet access and email privileges, threatened mothers with deportation, or told them that they could lose custody of their children, three individuals advocating on behalf of two separate detainees told ThinkProgress. Three mothers, and their children between the ages of two and 11, were also placed in the “medical infirmary” on the first day of the hunger strike, advocates said. Mohammad Abdollahi, the advocacy director at the immigration rights group Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), explained that the infirmary reportedly acted as a solitary confinement cell for the three families.

“They were placed in a dark room,” Abdollahi said. “The lights would only turn on when they were getting fed. One woman cupped her hands, asking, ‘You can do this to me, but why are you doing this to my child?’”

Abdollahi added, “There was sensory deprivation involved, preceded with the threat that they would lose custody of their children. Other women emailed us frantically that [the three families] were being sent to a medical infirmary. They went to the medical section [at the detention center] where ICE was interrogating them to protest, so they were able to get the woman with her two-year-old released.”

The full piece featuring Lopez and her experience working at the Karnes detention facility is available to read here.

The livestream of the forum on family detention featuring Lopez is available here, beginning at 2PM EST.