Incarcerating Mothers and Children is a Disgrace

Dilley Detention Facility

What’s the price of freedom for a toddler?

For the young children detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, an immigration detention complex created by the Obama Administration to hold mothers and child asylum seekers who were apprehended at the southern border, the price may be $10,000 or even higher.

On Tuesday my colleague Eleanor Acer and I joined a tour of the facility and met with some of the mothers. Some 200 women anxious to speak with visitors greeted us. Of the 30 or so we spoke with, most said they fled gender-based violence and other forms of persecution in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala only to be deprived of their liberty after seeking protection in the United States. Some have been in detention for as long as ten months.

We heard a lot about the effects of detention on their children, which are well documented in medical and mental health literature. “They don’t want to eat, they just cry; they want to see their family members.” Many of these family members live in the United States. Another woman lamented, “My daughter is seeing a psychologist for the trauma she suffers from the death of her father. But what about the trauma she suffers from being detained?”

One woman recounted the story of her toddler, who had to be hospitalized when he fell unconscious after her pleas to the on-site medical staff that he needed their attention went unheeded. Pointing to the small, frail boy now recovering from pneumonia, she explained that gang members in Honduras had threatened to kill her and her son. “They gave me three days to leave the country,” she said.

The mothers complained that the bond amounts—set at $7,500, $10,000 or even $15-20,000—were too high for them or their families to pay, so they remain locked up. “We are not criminals who deserve to be here suffering,” said one of the mothers.

She’s right. The United States has committed to international human rights norms, which specifically prohibit the penalization of refugees and asylum seekers.

Dilley is slated to triple its capacity to 2,400 by the end of this month. The Obama Administration should reverse that plan and end the disgraceful and unjust policy of detaining mothers and children who are fleeing persecution.

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Published on May 14, 2015

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