Press Releases

Rep. Roybal-Allard, House Democrats Recap Trip to Family Detention Facilities

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Washington, June 24, 2015 | Ben Soskin ((202) 225-1766) | comments
Today, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) joined seven of her fellow Democratic House Members – Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-05), Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), Congressman Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (CA-19) – to recount a trip they took this week to visit two private family detention facilities in Texas used to detain mothers and children awaiting disposition of their asylum claims.   The Members are among the 136 House Democrats who recently signed a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson calling for an end to family detention.  Listen to an audio recording of the press conference here.

During their trip, the members met with detainees at the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City on Monday, June 22nd, and at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley on Tuesday, June 23rd, to discuss their experiences, living conditions, and more.  At today’s press conference, members released videos and pictures they took during their visit, which show women and children pleading for their freedom.  Click here to see pictures from the Dilley and Karnes visits.  You can also see videos of the Dilley visit here, here, and here.

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard’s remarks from today’s press conference are below.

“I’d like to start by, first of all, responding to a description that ICE released yesterday about these facilities.  And I want to do that by going back to when I was in the State Legislature.  And I toured a place that, if I were to describe it, it had a gym, it had a library, it had classrooms where people could get their GEDs and even go to college.  It had private rooms.  It sounded really, really nice, if you had just gone by the description.

“What I’m describing is a California State Prison.

“Yesterday, ICE released a description of the facilities very similar to what I just described, and if you were just to go by that description, you’d say, what’s the problem?  There’s recreation, there’s all these kinds of things.  The problem is, as my colleagues have said, they are prisons.  And when you go there, there’s a playground, but you know what?  We didn’t see any children playing on that playground.  They were holding on to their mothers.

“And the stories that you heard from these mothers as to why they came: the stories of rape, of being threatened by gangs – not only threatening their own lives, but threatening their children, threatening their parents – they had absolutely no alternative.

“But one of the things that was the saddest for me was the trauma they described once they got here – the treatment that they are getting in these facilities.  One mother told me, ‘They treat us like we’re stupid.  They yell at us and they demean us in front of our children, who are already traumatized.’  And they talked about the fact that any time their child was ill, they were basically told, ‘Well, just go drink some water.’

“When we were out in the courtyard and we were talking with them, I asked them what was one of their biggest complaints, and one of them said, ‘I can’t get help for my daughter.’  And she showed me what she was talking about.  She lifted a two- or three-year-old little girl, and she lifted her dress, and her entire back was just covered in a terrible, terrible rash.  And she said, ‘They just told me that it’s okay, just drink some water.’

“Another mother, unfortunately, who we met with, and then Zoe got word yesterday that she tried to commit suicide, talked about the fact that her daughter had an infection, and again, they kept telling her, ‘Well, tell your daughter to drink water.  It’ll go away.’

“This is happening here, in this country.  Because the facility that they are in is a private facility, for profit, and they could care less about the human aspect of those who are there.  And that has to stop.  We have to get those children out of these facilities.

“And I just want to end with this.  During one of our private meetings, there was an eight-year-old girl who was just sitting there, and she was drawing as the women were talking about their plight and how long they had been there, what they were experiencing.  As I was getting ready to leave, she hands me this.  It was something she had been drawing.  Her name is Helen.  And over here, there are eyes with tears, and it says in Spanish, ‘Quiero ser libre.’  ‘I want to be free.’”

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