Imprisoning Families for Profit

For general information about family detention, check out CIVIC’s one-pager.

By Lynnette Arnold

On Friday I went to visit my friend Alta Gracias and her three children at Karnes County Residential Center, where they have been locked up for the past two months. I was accompanied by a volunteer from the Hutto Visitation Program, a community group in Texas that has visited detained immigrants since 2009. We drove about three hours into Southern Texas, past oil derricks, cotton fields, and small, economically depressed towns. The Karnes facility, originally constructed as a model center for the detention of adult migrants, was repurposed this summer and began detaining families last month.

Drawing by Child in Detention

Upon arrival, I turned in my ID and was given a visitors badge. At the direction of the guards, I proceeded through a metal detector and two locked doors into the visitation room, taking nothing with me except quarters for the vending machine. The two older children, 10-year-old Ana and 9-year-old Victor (not their real names) were bouncing with excitement to see me. As soon as the door to the visitation room locked behind me, four small arms wrapped around me and two heads burrowed into my sides. When they finally let go, Alta Gracias’ hug felt no less desperate. As we sat down at a table to visit, Ana snuggled up close to me, my arm around her shoulders, until the visitation guard told me that the little girl needed to sit on her own chair. The desperation of the children’s need for comfort spoke volumes about the depth of their suffering during their dangerous journey north, in the week they spent sleeping on the floor in crowded and freezing holding cells at the border, and during two months of waiting, trapped at the detention center.

Alta Gracias and her children are being held for crossing the border without documentation, fleeing extreme violence in the coastal part of El Salvador they call home. While children who cross the border alone are quickly released to relatives or sponsors while they go through immigration hearings, children who come with their parents are locked up in family detention centers like Karnes, which holds 550 mothers with children as young as two months old.  Read the full and original publication of this article at Alas Migratorias, a blog about migration, cross-border connection, y otro mundo posible.