WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Congressional Progressive Caucus, along with Democratic Members of the House Judiciary Committee and support from the Congressional Tri-Caucuses, today held a forum on family detention. The forum highlighted grave abuses experienced by women and children housed in for-profit detention facilities across the country. The forum allowed Members of Congress to hear directly from a panel that included two former detainees, a whistleblower who once worked as the lead social worker at a detention facility, and two experts who spoke to the psychological, developmental and legal implications of current family detention policies. The event comes just days after a federal judge in California ruled that family detention centersseriously violate a longstanding court settlement, and that the families should be released as quickly as possible.
“Seeing a former detention center employee side-by-side with two former detainees, testifying in lockstep about the cruel treatment endured inside and the unethical practices these facilities rely upon, is a profound testament to the urgent need to shut family detention centers down,” Rep. Grijalva said. “The notion that we would lock women and children in cages as they await the outcome of their asylum appeals, and that we would allow the for-profit prison industry monetize their tragic circumstances, is beneath the dignity of this great nation. It is time to end this shameful practice, once and for all.”
"No person — new American or not — should be forced to endure what we heard today,” Rep. Ellison said. “Closing family detention facilities is long overdue. We must ensure families are moved from these facilities, placed with family members and provided full legal and social support now."
“When I visited the Karnes and Dilley detention facilities earlier this year, hundreds of mothers grabbed my hands – telling me they were not criminals – and begging for their release while their children broke into tears,” Rep. Lofgren said. “They told me about insufficient medical care, spoiled food, dirty water and abusive treatment by prison guards. These are images I will never forget. I left that visit even more convinced that the family detention policy should end and women and children should be released from custody as soon as possible. Now that a Federal Court has ruled likewise, DHS should begin the process of closing down family detention centers immediately.”
“What I saw on my visits to Dilley and Karnes was shocking,” Rep. Chu said. “The bleak, barracks-like conditions these women and children were held in reminded me of the Japanese Internment camps. And like those camps, the damage of detention is long lasting. Prolonged detention re-traumatizes families, breaks apart the parent-child relationship, and has serious cognitive effects on children. I appreciate hearing from today’s witnesses who are bravely documenting what they experienced inside these facilities. It is my hope that an end to this sad chapter will come very soon, and we can turn to a more humane and just way of treating refuge families seeking protection in our country.”
“I strongly believe that our family detention system must be halted immediately,” Rep. Roybal-Allard said. “During my recent visits to the detention facilities at Karnes and Dilley, I was heartbroken at the sight of the mothers and children suffering in confinement. I heard stories of abusive staff and woefully inadequate medical care. Unfortunately, the conditions described by the women were not isolated incidents. That is why it is critical for us to hold forums like this, and spread the truth about the family detention system to as wide an audience as possible.”
Information about Olivia López, the whistleblower who worked as the lead social worker at Karnes County Residential Facility, is available here. Ms. López told Congressional leaders that in April 2015, she was compelled to resign from her position after repeatedly being asked to omit information from written documents, lie to federal immigration officials and withhold information from residents about their right to grievance. Her full testimony is available here.