Texas Democrats call for releasing detainees at ICE facilities

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Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus criticized two ICE detention facilities in southwest Texas on Monday and called for them to release detainees as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the state.

Democrats said the two detention centers, located in Dilley and Pearsall, are housing children as young as 12 months old, with little to no protections for COVID-19. Rep. Joaquin Castro, who organized the visit, spoke to reporters on a conference call. “The conditions are bad. These people are living in a petri dish.”

Castro was joined by fellow Texas delegation members Sylvia Garcia and Henry Cuellar. On the same call, Garcia echoed Castro’s comments.

“The masks and the enforcement of the masks just started last week in anticipation of our arrival,” Garcia said. “It looked like window-dressing for our visit.” 

Garcia also said she spoke with several detainees who told her that the mask mandates are rarely enforced for them or staff.

Democratic lawmakers have been pressing ICE to be more transparent regarding the number of detainees, and whether or not forced family separation is happening. The facility at Dilley is the largest in the country, and there were reports as recently as last month of children being separated from their parents.

The GEO Group, which runs the Pearsall facility, was heavily criticized last month for failing to contain COVID-19. At one point it was estimated that 90 percent of Frio County’s COVID-19 cases came from Pearsall.

Gina Ortiz Jones, who is running for Congress in TX-23 which houses both detention facilities, provided a comment to the Texas Signal. 

“As COVID-19 cases surge across Texas, detention centers are especially at risk of becoming hotspots of infection if social distancing measures are not in place, there is not a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment, and testing and tracing capabilities remain limited,” Jones said. “There absolutely needs to be greater oversight of and transparency into facility operations to ensure the health and safety of employees, detainees, and communities like Dilley and Pearsall that host these facilities.” 

COVID-19 cases have been rising alarmingly in the state. On Tuesday, the state reported more than 5,000 new cases. Gov. Abbott also encouraged Texans to stay at home in interviews with local affiliates.

Latino Victory, which has been sharply critical of the Trump administration’s detainment policy, also spoke to the Texas Signal. President and CEO of Latino Victory Nathalie Rayes said she was grateful to members of the Texas delegation for “shedding light on the deplorable conditions” of the detainment centers.

Rayes also noted that if members of the delegation believe the best thing to do is to release asylum seekers, then that is what should happen. “These are human beings. These are children. These are mothers. These are fathers. They deserve humane conditions.”  

Photo: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images

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