America's no 'land of the free' if we send kids fleeing violence to for-profit prisons

July 6, 2015

On a desolate dirt road about an hour south of San Antonio, some 2,500 women and children will experience the Fourth of July in America for the first time this weekend. For them, there will be no celebration: no barbecue in the backyard or fireworks in the night sky. We proclaim to the world that those facing credible harm in their homelands can find refuge in America, and they followed our promise of sanctuary for hundreds of miles to reach our southern border. They risked life and limb to escape poverty, violence and sexual predators in their native lands to find safety in America. Instead, we threw them in jail.

The South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas – known simply as Dilley – is one of two detention facilities outside of San Antonio that I toured on a Congressional delegation last week. I went to see for myself the conditions that the women and children incarcerated there face firsthand – and what I saw was nothing short of heartbreaking. 

Bungalows house multiple families per room with a communal shower and no privacy. Lack of medical and dental care is readily apparent – one girl I met on the trip had no teeth; another had a common and treatable infection and had not received help. Young children are denied consistent access to toys and the library. Some kids as old as seven or eight actually regressed back to wearing diapers as a result of their captivity.

While my colleagues and I were there, the women at Dilley began protesting their detainment. Bedsheets became banners calling for freedom. Children wore pillowcases with pleas for help scrawled on them. In the courtyard, they chanted “¡Queremos libertad!” – we want freedom!

Read Rep. Grijalva's full op-ed in The Guardian by clicking here.