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Asylum seekers detained and separated from families, driven to despair

The detention industry has profited in Texas from a recent shift in immigration enforcement: families with children as young as two years old are being separated and sent to different facilities and prisons. Women’s Refugee Commission and several coalition partners filed a complaint on December 11 to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) on behalf of individuals who were separated from their families at the southern border of the United States with Mexico. The complaint followed a number of cases of family separation that has had a devastating emotional toll on those incarcerated within detention centers.

The report lifted the challenges that families experience when separated in different detention centers, including privately-owned facilities in Texas. For instance, Camila is an asylum seeker who was detained with her 17-year-old daughter at the South Texas Family Residential Center, a CoreCivic detention center in Dilley. Texas. Her husband was transferred to the Port Isabel Detention Facility, while her U.S. citizen son was sent to live with Camila’s sister-in-law. With the family spread throughout the state, Camila said, “It has been very traumatic for our family to be separated in this way. It is difficult for my daughter and I to discuss it without crying. It has been very difficult for my daughter to be separated from her father and brother. I have never been separated from my son and I worry about him every day. We fled Mexico as a family and I believe we should have been kept together as a family, especially because my children are still underage.”

The detention facilities have responded to the separation by limiting contact between families. When Sofia, an asylum seeker from Guatemala, was separated from her husband and five-year-old son Rodrigo at the border, she learned that her husband Luis was in custody of the U.S. Marshals to be charged for illegal re-entry, a felony, though he came seeking asylum. Detained with her one-year-old son in South Texas Family Residential Center (STFRC) in Dilley, Texas, Sofia had no way to contact Luis or Rodrigo. The lack of communication negatively impacted Sofia’s legal case with no way to contact her husband from within detention.

The lack of communication between families has had negative impacts on detainees’ psychological health. Valentina, an asylum seeker from El Salvador, fled with her husband Hilario  and one-year-old son. While Valentina and her son were detained in Dilley, her husband was sent to Arizona. The facility in Arizona required a marriage certificate in order for the couple to exchange a phone call. Unable to access their marriage certificate, the family has been unable to communicate while detained for several months.

While the threat of family separation has existed in the past, it has been used sparingly with preference to the “catch and release” system. The increased use of the practice in recent months reflects the Trump Administration’s attempt to deter immigrants, though advocates warn it will punish rather than dissuade those who risk their lives to cross the border.

How will the private prison industry respond to family separation? While families are denied communication and access to visits from their loved ones, the detention centers retain power over detainees’ health and legal resources. Texas Prison Bid’ness will continue to monitor this change in enforcement practice and its impact on the detention industry of Texas.

Image Source: Detention Watch Network

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