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What I Saw at the Dilley, Texas, Immigrant Detention Center

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When I first started to write this, I was crying. I was flying back from Dilley, Texas, the site of the largest family-detention center in the United States. It is 75 miles from the Texas-Mexico border. The center is actually a prison—an internment camp. I see the faces and hear the voices of the women and children I just left.

Nearly every woman I saw seeking asylum came from the northern triangle of Central America: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. They had come, primarily, not to save their own lives, not even to save themselves from hopeless poverty or endless physical and sexual abuse, but to save their daughters and sons. The mothers believed their children, who were facing sexual abuse, rape, violence, and possibly murder in their native countries, would be safer in the United States. In most cases the events that caused them to leave, a month or so before I saw them, were attempted or successful attacks by predators, primarily against their daughters, either made by gangs, the government, members of their own families, or unknown men.

Journalists and politicians are often barred from coming in to the detention centers. Occasionally, the center owners will permit guided visits. They do all they can to mislead. I and others had the benefit of being there day after day.

I spent one week at Dilley, leaving early in February, as a volunteer lawyer to help these families with their asylum applications. Nearly every one of the almost 500 people that I saw in the detention center was sick. There were, at the end of my visit, 15 infants in the center—two children had previously died in government custody, though not in the Dilley facility. The children and their mothers, most of whom had crossed the Rio Grande ten days before, near McAllen, Texas, often bucking strong currents and sand holes, where the water level hovered around their knees, looked for border patrol agents so they could be taken into custody and request asylum.

The agents take them in their wet clothes, at first, to the “Hielera,” the “Ice Box,” a refrigerated building, a large processing center, where they had to try to sleep on the concrete floor or sit on concrete benches under mylar blankets, prodded by agents all night and day, deliberately kept awake. Bathroom breaks are frequently not granted, or not in time, so both women and children often soil themselves.

The prison-like detention was an attempt to persuade these immigrants to turn back before they even reached a credible-fear interview with an asylum officer. It was also a message to those who were still trying to cross the border.

Mothers told me two bologna sandwiches for four days, for a mother and two children, was standard. Sometimes they missed food for a day. Sickness was not treated. The original rules for any confinement was limited to 12 hours, but now it is routine for the families to be kept four or five days, and sometimes a week.

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !