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Tahirih Justice Center is deeply concerned that survivors of gender-based violence from Central America in detention centers in Texas and across the country are facing wrongful deportation due to a lack of appropriate, humanitarian services and denial of due process under immigration law.

Tahirih Houston is at the forefront of efforts to bring critical legal services to survivors held at Karnes, a jail-like facility where hundreds of women and children — many of whom are survivors of domestic and sexual violence — are being held.

In a 2009 report, Precarious Protection, Tahirih outlined a number of concerns with the detention of survivors of domestic and sexual violence, including that it:

    1) Exacerbates symptoms of trauma, stripping women of their privacy and control;
    2) Leaves survivors with limited access to desperately needed medical and mental health care; and
    3) Denies survivors the opportunity to obtain free or low cost legal counsel, significantly decreasing their likelihood of success in applying for relief.

In recent months, Tahirih has observed that refugees who have survived sexual and domestic violence and are being held at Karnes are facing exactly these hurdles. Mental health care professionals are not adequately accessible to survivors of violence for in-person counseling and support. Women are often screened for asylum eligibility over the telephone or in front of their children, making it nearly impossible for them to express their experiences of abuse and putting them at risk of deportation.

“Essentially, we are asking these women and children to bare the most intimate details of their abuse in a prison-like setting in order to even access a judicial process where they can present evidence to establish that they meet the definition of a refugee,” said Anne Chandler, Director of Tahirih Houston. “Given the shame and taboo often associated with talking about rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, and other forms of gender-based violence, these conditions fundamentally impinge on these refugees’ ability to tell their story and advocate for themselves.”

The detainees at Karnes are all mothers with young children. Many are fleeing one of the most violent regions in the world; in 2011, El Salvador had the highest rate of gender-motivated killing of women in the world, followed by Guatemala (third highest) and Honduras (sixth highest).

“Our nation is failing women and children who have suffered gender-based violence,” said Chandler. “It is urgent that we enact alternatives to detention and release survivors of sexual and domestic violence as soon as possible. If this nation is concerned about protecting women and children from sexual and domestic violence, it is the only thing to do.”

Tahirih Houston continues to accept calls for legal assistance at 713-496-0100.