At the Border, Newly Reunited Families Are Being Torn Apart Again

After being reunited once, 16 families have been separated — again — at a detention center in Karnes, Texas.

Earlier this month, at the Karnes County Detention Facility — which detains fathers and sons together — 16 fathers were reportedly arrested and brought to a different detention center, leaving their children with no parents on site. This marks the second time that many of these kids have been ripped from their families, the first time having been at the border. Once President Trump signed an order ending his family-separation policy, Karnes was supposed to carry the promise of reunion.

But for 16 families, that now feels like a false promise.

According to the nonprofit RAICES, which provides immigrants with legal representation, some of its lawyers were meeting with detained clients on Aug. 15, when they were suddenly asked to leave the facility. They later received a call from one of the 16 dads, who recounted that about 60 ICE officials — many armed and wearing gas masks — arrived to arrest and remove them.

I thought I would never see my father again,” one of the children who was re-separated from his father, said on a press call organized by RAICES yesterday. Joining him on the call were three other boys, who, like him, were all under the age of 10 and were taken away from their fathers for a second time. “It was an injustice because they told us they were not going to separate us again and they lied,” one of them added.

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When a RAICES attorney asked why the families were being re-separated, an ICE agent reportedly referenced “disruptive behavior,” which caused “safety concerns.” When asked to elaborate, the agents added that the fathers didn’t want to “go with the flow” and “take their children to school” or “participate in activities.” But RAICES believes the arrests were made in response to peaceful protests that up to 500 fathers and sons at the facility organized earlier this month that included a sit-in in the Karnes center’s recreation center, hunger strikes, and some children refusing to attend classes. The protests were a response to “frustration over being separated, then reunited, and now detained for extended periods of time in unjust conditions,” according to a statement issued by RAICES.

One child on the RAICES call said that he was not treated poorly, but he could not bring himself to eat because he was too sad. Others described “school” conditions at the facility as lax, one child adding that he want to attend a “real school” to get an education. “I dream of being free. I want to study. I want to go to school and be somebody in life.” The boys said they aspire to be pilots, soldiers, and firemen.

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“It’s very clear that these people were coerced into agreeing to deportation,” RAICES Communications Director Jennifer Falcon said after the children left the call. In a previous statement, Falcon has said, “Karnes County Detention Center is not a ‘summer camp.’ It is an internment camp housing vulnerable fathers and sons jailed in their care. The same fathers who ICE has tricked into signing deportation agreements masked as reunification papers.” In that earlier statement, Falcon also said that this is not the first time Karnes has reportedly abused its power. “The last time a hunger strike happened … ICE held a meeting to let the fathers know if they continue to refuse to eat they would be classified as security risks or ‘unavailable’ to care for their children and therefore separated from them.”

When asked why these 16 specific families, mostly from Honduras and Guatemala, were targeted for arrests by ICE officials, RAICES Director of Family Detention Services Manoj Govindaiah said, “We generally don’t know why these 16 were chosen.” He added that to RAICES’s knowledge, all protests were peaceful. Older children were initially denied access to lawyers, while some children were denied contact with RAICES altogether.

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“I want to send a strong message to Donald Trump: Get us out of here,” one child said on the call. “We want our freedom.”

Children’s responses have been translated from their native languages. For more information, visit raicestexas.org.