Detained Mothers Who Fled Central American Violence in Holy Week Hunger Strike


April 3, 2015

About 25 mothers detained at the Karnes Family Detention Camp near San Antonio, Texas have started a Holy Week hunger strike.  These are among the hundreds of mothers and children held at the Karnes site because they were part of the surge fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras last year.
According to press accounts and communications from the organization We Belong Together, initially about 80 mothers joined the hunger strike.  The number dropped after three mothers were placed in isolation with their children; two of these families have been released.   The Huffington Post interviewed Rebeca Flores, who visits women at Karnes each week through her participation in the Interfaith Welcome Coalition.  Ms. Flores contended that one of the women was held in isolation because she had helped to organize the hunger strike.

The mothers signed a letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  (Handwritten letter in Spanish is here.)  Translated from the original Spanish, it begins:

“In the name of the mothers, residents of the Center for Detentions in Karnes City, we are writing this petition whereby we ask to be set free with our children.  There are mothers here who have been locked in this place for as long as 10 months.

”We also have mothers, that because they have had a previous deportation, are not granted a bond.  They are granting a bond to their children, but they are not allowing an out to the mothers.  This is the motive that we have taken the initiative of uniting ourselves and initiating a Hunger Strike, so that you can see and feel our desperation.”

All of the mothers have passed “credible fear” interviews with ICE personnel (that is, that they fled their home countries because of a credible fear for their safety).

The mothers who signed the letter and who are engaged in the hunger strike are worried that their children are losing weight and that their health is deteriorating.  Some have bonds as high as $15,000 that they cannot afford to pay; others, as the letter notes, are denied bond.

Tonight, Jews observe the first Seder of Passover and will celebrate freedom.  The Christian Holy Week is a time when many reflect deeply about standing in justice with all people.  Whatever the wellsprings of our sense of justice, we should not let these mothers be invisible.

When the large numbers of children and mothers crossed our borders last spring, there was a lot of press attention and a flurry of action here in Washington.  But it has been pretty silent for awhile.  Everything is complicated – children who are released to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services have gotten some of the help they need, and many have been united with their families here.  But many remain in ICE custody, and through this hunger strike, some brave mothers are trying to speak to us.  We need to listen, and respond.

We Belong Together is circulating a petition to ICE Director Sarah Saldana and ICE San Antonio Office Director Norma E. Lacey, urging that all the detainees at Karnes be freed.  I’m signing – will you sign also?  Here’s the link to the petition.

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