U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will tour
the Karnes County Residential Center today.
The detention center primarily houses immigrants from Central America who have fled violence and abuse in their home countries. Along with the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, the Karnes center has come under fire after reports of physical and mental abuse, poor medical treatment, and hunger strikes by detainees.
Lilian Yamileth Olivia-Bardales, a 19-year-old Honduran mother of one, reportedly attempted suicide
at the Karnes detention center earlier this month.
DHS had detained Olivia at the Karnes center since October. She fled Honduras after facing physical abuse and rape.
In a suicide note, Olivia wrote that “you’ve been killing me little by little with punishment and lies,” according to McClatchy
“Maybe you are not fathers or mothers to understand the reasons and the suffering that we live in this place together with our children,” Bardales wrote in Spanish. “You would not like to be locked up in a place like this the way we are suffering with our children.”
Johnson and other DHS officials announced a number of reforms
to the detention centers in May, including setting up independent advisory boards and bolstering living conditions for detainees.
But the changes aren’t enough to sate many Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Joaquin Castro, who want to shutter the centers altogether. Federal lawmakers recently sent a letter to Johnson, asking his agency to stop imprisoning women and children.
“Women and children fleeing violence and abuse who come to America looking for safety are not hardened criminals, they’re refugees,” said Rep. Castro. “We should treat them with compassion, make legal processes available, and find alternatives to detention centers that are appropriate and effective.”