“Absolutely.” When she was a young woman, she was sexually assaulted and raped in her country, but there was no rule of law or civil society to hold her attackers accountable. She was not going to allow that to happen to her four-year-old girl.
Another woman told the Members about inadequate healthcare at the facility, and shared that her own daughter is suffering from a treatable medical condition but has not received help. Upon returning to Washington, Members learned that the same woman attempted suicide the day after they met with her.
Reps. Grijalva and Gutierrez meet with women and children currently detained by ICE
South Texas Family Residential Center
On Tuesday, the Members visited the South Texas Family Residential Center, where detainees began protesting their internment. Women turned bedsheets into banners, and children wore pillowcase with pleas for help scrawled on them. As the Members made their way to the facility’s outdoor area, detainees began chanting, “Quieremos libertad,” which translates to, “We want freedom.” As Rep. Grijalva toured the facility, a young boy no older than five approached him, hugged his leg, and asked, “Are you here to get us out of jail?”
A young girl wears a pillow case with a message for help from the visiting Congressional Delegation
“Seeing firsthand the conditions that women and children are forced to endure in family detention centers in nothing short of heartbreaking,” said Rep. Grijalva. “The unnecessary human suffering at the hands of our government, and for the profit of the private prison industry, is wrong, and must stop without exception.”
Following the Congressional site visits, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced changes this morning to family detention protocols. Grijalva and the other Members of the Congressional delegation met with Secretary Johnson today on Capitol Hill to discuss their dismay with the current system.
“I understand that DHS is taking some initiative to soften this situation, but it doesn’t matter how gilded the cage might be, it’s still a cage – it’s still a prison for women and children,” Grijalva continued. “DHS must recognize that these are people seeking asylum and refugee status in our country as our laws accommodate. They deserve to have their cases are managed properly; to have access to legal support, supportive services and protection in light of their credible stories regarding the need for asylum as refugees.
“Instead, a for-profit prison industry, contracted by DHS with minimal oversight and minimal accountability is turning a buck by imprisoning the most vulnerable among us. We must eliminate the monetary gain from this situation, and deal with it in a way that’s much more rational than what we’re doing now. Secretary Johnson has to understand that this is not something he can window dress – this fundamentally has to stop.”
More pictures are available here.
Grijalva has been a vocal opponent of family detention centers, and of the for-profit detention industry.
- In December 2014, he led 59 House Democrats in sending a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell expressing concern over the lack of adequate protection against discrimination and sexual assault for unaccompanied minors in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
- For Mothers’ Day this year, he wrote an article recognizing the hundreds of mothers held in family detention centers just like the ones he visited this week.
- On May 27th, he joined 135 of his Democratic colleagues, including Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, in sending a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson expressing deep concerns with the Department’s “continued detention of mothers and children in secure, jail-like facilities.”
- On June 17th, Grijalva sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting a thorough and public investigation into allegations of mistreatment of detainees at Eloy Detention Center outside of Phoenix, Arizona, which allegedly led to the deaths of two detainees.