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Congressional delegation visit family detention centers

Ranking Democrat: ‘We should end the jailing of women and children'

SAN ANTONIO – It already had been an emotional afternoon for eight congressional Democrats by the time they arrived at Rep. Joaquin Castro's District 20 office for a Monday evening news conference.  

They and Castro had spent several hours talking with many of the Central American women and children held at the Karnes County Residential Center. Tuesday, they will do the same at the newest and largest such facility in Dilley.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL-04) said he was struck by hearing the story of a 4-year-old and his mother who had been held at the family detention center for almost a year.

"A quarter of that child's life has been in a detention center. It's all that he knows," Gutierrez said.

The outspoken congressman questioned why they and many others were placed in detention if they were legally asking for asylum after being caught at the border.

"What did they do wrong? They appeared before agents of the government of the United States and said, ‘Help me,'" Gutierrez said.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), ranking Democrat on the House immigration sub-committee, said there are alternatives to detention.

"We know that the religious community has stepped forward and offered to manage their cases to make sure that these families show up for court," Lofgren said.

Castro said many of those are located in San Antonio.

"This is the hub for the social services and advocacy that has been provided for the women and children in Karnes and Dilley," Castro said.

Still, they say the high bonds set for many of the families makes their release impossible.

"So I'm going to spend $127,000 a year keeping you in jail cause you don't have a $5,000 bond? Tell me where that makes sense," Gutierrez said.

The delegation said the women and children spoke to them freely.

"They had hope in their eyes," Castro said.  

But the mothers were given congressional business cards and phone numbers, and they were urged to call collect if they suffered any retribution.

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-05) said he doubts Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson would stand for that.

Still the delegation said they would follow up with the women in a conference call.

Hoyer said, "These women showed the courage to come forward to tell us of their plight."

"What I saw today did nothing but confirm my belief walking through the door that we should end the jailing of women and children," Lofgren said. "That's not what civilized societies do."

The delegation said they would discuss in detail what they learned after visiting both facilities, to share with the public.

Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27) said, "We are resolved to end family detention."

An ICE spokesperson on Tuesday issued this statement.