Sophie,* a 2-year-old with brown eyes and pigtails, is in a jail in the middle of nowhere along with more than 500 other young children and their mothers. They are in detention in Karnes County, Texas, because their mothers asked us for protection from violence.
The jail where they are held is euphemistically called a “family residential facility” by the federal government. But this facility and others like it in remote U.S. towns are not family facilities. They are not shelters or temporary transit facilities. These are jails behind barbed wire, heavy security doors, metal detectors, and other hallmarks of prison. Women and children locked up inside have been languishing for months. They could be there indefinitely.
Sophie’s mom, Maria,* is worried that Sophie has lost a lot of weight while detained; she isn’t eating. Children as young as Sophie don’t have the ability to express their stress in words. Their stress manifests in other ways, such as weight loss and changes in sleep patterns.
Even if Sophie did have a better appetite, there’s not enough milk to go around. When one child tried to sneak an extra milk carton, a guard opened it and poured the milk on the floor in front of the child. Inside these walls, guards use varied methods to exert their power. Mothers are separated from their children as a form of punishment if they break even minor rules, like allowing a child to crawl in the wrong place, and there are already multiple allegations of sexual assault and coercion by guards.
Our government has ignored resounding cries for an end to prolonged family detention and instead races to build more and more jails for women and children. No amount of work to improve conditions will make it alright to keep women and children like Maria and Sophie in jail.
UPDATE: Your support has made a difference! Government officials have announced a shift in detention policy, promising to release hundreds of refugee women and children from detention. But work remains to ensure this is a true victory. Read the latest, and add your voice to the campaign for justice with the tweet below.
*Names have been changed to protect client safety and privacy.