In Texas, armed guards forcibly removed 16 fathers from the Karnes County detention center, where they were being held with their sons after the families were separated at the border and then reunited. Authorities appear to have reseparated the parents and sons as retaliation for organizing a nonviolent protest. Many of the imprisoned fathers said they had been tricked into signing deportation agreements in English that ICE told them were reunification papers. The families have now been reunited, and some have been released. For more, we speak with Casey Miller and Manoj Govindaiah with RAICES, a Texas-based legal aid group for immigrants.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to Texas, where armed guards forcibly removed 16 fathers from an immigrant jail where they were held with their sons after being separated at the border and then reunited. A boy held at the Karnes County detention center, who’s under the age of 10, spoke to reporters Friday and described what happened through an interpreter.
INTERPRETER: [translating immigrant child] He recalls that he was in the school playground playing with his friends and that he was called. He was asked to go into an office, and that’s where he was hold that his dad would meet him soon, but didn’t know when. The child said that he asked for his dad and that he was crying, but nobody told him anything. He kept begging. He kept asking for some result, for some responses, and nothing was told to him. He mentions that he was taken into another room with other kids. And like I mentioned before, nothing was responded to them. He says, “I was crying. I cried the whole day. And I knew that my dad was crying. I saw the other kids crying, and the kids knew that their dads would be crying, as well.”
AMY GOODMAN: The child was speaking to reporters on the phone through an interpreter from the detention center. The reseparation of more than a dozen fathers and sons came in apparent retaliation for their plans to organize a nonviolent protest calling for all of them to be released. This is one of the fathers speaking to reporters by phone from detention Friday.
IMMIGRANT FATHER: [translated] I was talking to other detainees, and there is a plan. We will not be eating, and everyone has agreed. We are doing so because we do not know what will happen to us, and we need to know if we will be deported or given an opportunity to stay here. We are asking the government to free us. We want to be freed. We are not criminals. We want to be freed, because, as a human being, we deserve to be.
AMY GOODMAN: Many of the imprisoned fathers said they had been tricked into signing deportation agreements in English that ICE told them were reunification papers. Hillary Clinton tweeted about their reseparation, writing, quote, “This is a heart-wrenching disgrace.” Late on Friday, the fathers were reunited with their sons, and on Saturday some were released.
For more, we go to San Antonio, about an hour north of the Karnes County detention center, where we’re joined by Manoj Govindaiah, director of family detention services for RAICES, a Texas-based legal aid group for immigrant children, families and refugees, and by Casey Miller, legal assistant for RAICES, who was denied access to their child clients after the fathers were taken away.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Casey, let’s begin with you. Describe exactly what has taken place here in this last week.
CASEY MILLER: Oh, it’s just been terror, honestly. So, from reports from the father, we have heard that 60 to a hundred ICE agents, who were armed, stormed the building with riot gear, and these men were forcibly taken from their rooms and not told where they were going. And then they were taken to another detention center, which was—told to me by a few men, was the worst of any of the detention centers they’ve been to, in Pearsall, Texas, not told the whereabouts of their sons, and their sons were actually not told the whereabouts of their fathers. So, ICE is just keeping them in the dark and continually torturing them psychologically.
AMY GOODMAN: How old are the children?
CASEY MILLER: Oh, you know, they are so resilient, so they are hanging in there. I think they’re relieved to be reunited with their fathers. And they’re, you know, getting through these multiple traumas the best that they can. You know, a lot of them feel to be a little numb. There’s a lot of sadness still and, I think, a lot of fear that this might happen again. So, they’re just trying to get through each day, really.
AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what went down on Wednesday. Talk about the ICE raid on Karnes.
CASEY MILLER: So, we don’t have—I was not actually there on Wednesday. All I have are stories from the fathers. So, what it sounds like is the men were gathered. There was a group of men gathered outside of the lunchroom, and they were talking about coming to see us at RAICES, their legal services, to find out the status of like their cases. And a guard for the private prison company GEO came up to them and asked them what they were talking about, and they told him. And after that, he walked off.
And a few hours later, some of them were in their rooms, got a knock on the door. Again, men with shields, helmets, some of them armed, forcibly pulled them out of their room and told them nothing, just took them to a room where they sat for six hours. Many of them asked for water. They weren’t even given water. And they weren’t told anything of where they were going. And then they got on a bus. And I read a report from one of the men that there was another little microvan behind them, and they were hoping and praying that their children were in that van, which to no avail.
And they were taken to the other detention center and put into isolation, into, what I said before, some of the worst conditions that these men had been in so far, were not able to leave the room. Heard two reports of one man vomiting blood, another man trying to hang himself with a bed sheet while he was there. They couldn’t speak between cells. And all of their food was brought to the cell and put through a slot. And they were eventually—
AMY GOODMAN: And then?
CASEY MILLER: The next day, they were eventually taken to—back to Karnes, where they were eventually reunited with their sons.
AMY GOODMAN: ICE spokesperson Nina Pruneda said about 40 men were involved in what she called a “disturbance” at Karnes, and said, quote, ”ICE San Antonio deployed additional law enforcement resources to control the situation, and a precautionary measure, instructed all visitors to leave the facility.” Manoj Govindaiah, can you respond to that statement, that description of what took place from ICE?
MANOJ GOVINDAIAH: Well, from our understanding in talking to our staff and our volunteers who were present on Wednesday and who were escorted out of the building around 12:30 in a haste manner, and then from talking to the fathers and the children, it appears the dads were not involved in any particular kind of disturbance. As Casey mentioned, many of the fathers were in their rooms when ICE agents came to their rooms, knocked on the door, verified their identity, and then immediately took them into a separate room away from their kids.
It’s also our understanding that the children were in school at the time, so the kids, many of—many of the kids did not even see any of this happening, and that the children were denied access to RAICES. We tried to see them multiple times on Wednesday and Thursday of last week. They were denied access to come and see us. It’s our understanding that the kids also tried to come see us.
Our staff went to Pearsall on Thursday, where the 16 men were being held. They were denied access there, as well. Our staff were denied access to the men at Pearsall. And even after they were reunited at Karnes Thursday evening, during legal visitation hours, we were unable to see them there.
An ICE agent confirmed to our—one of our attorneys that the disruptive behavior was that the men were refusing to “go with the flow” and that they were—some of them were not sending their kids to school. Some of them were not participating in activities at the detention center. And that was exactly the type of protest that the men were hoping to do, which was to choose not to avail themselves of services at the detention center, to choose not to have their children go to school. Some were choosing not to eat. And so, it clearly sounds like this is retaliation against nonviolent, lawful protest. And whatever ICE is saying to justify this seems completely, completely untrue.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it illegal for the authorities not to allow you to speak to the children or the parents? We’re talking about—you’re their legal representative.
MANOJ GOVINDAIAH: Yes, we are their lawyers. And, yes, it is, actually. ICE has brought discretion over, you know, visitation hours, and if somebody is in a particular type of housing, then when they can actually see their lawyers. But, you know, especially in terms of the children, ICE flat-out told us, you know, “Oh, it’s Thursday afternoon. The kids are eating pizza and watching a movie. Do you really want to talk to them?” After we pushed and pushed, ICE agreed to go and ask the children, “Do you want to see the lawyers at RAICES?” And they went and asked the kids, and came back and told us, apparently, that the children wanted to wait until their fathers were returned, and that dad and son together would come and see us.
Additionally, there is an outtake processing and an intake processing, both of which take a couple of hours. And even though our clients are physically in the building, if they’re going through outtake, which is what the dads were going through when they were transferred to Pearsall, or if they’re going through intake, which is what the dads were going through when they were returned to Karnes, we are also unable to see our clients during that time.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn back to the jailed boy at Karnes County detention center who was separated from his dad, not once, but twice, and has been detained for months since they first came to the U.S. border. The boy had this message for President Trump.
IMMIGRANT CHILD: [translated] I want to tell the president to, please, please let us out. Please release us. Give us the opportunity to stay here to have a better future. … Don’t deport us, please. Please don’t deport us from here, because I want to go forward with my dad and not take a step backwards.
AMY GOODMAN: Manoj Govindaiah, we didn’t identify him because he’s not identifying himself. Do you know who he is and if he’s still in or has been released?
MANOJ GOVINDAIAH: Yes, we do know who he is. He is one of our clients, as is his father. I believe, as of Friday last week, they, he and his father, were still detained at the Karnes detention center. We will be checking this morning to see if they have been released over the weekend.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for—
CASEY MILLER: And I—
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, Casey, last words?
CASEY MILLER: I was just going to say, and I met with both him and his father after the interview, and they both seemed in better spirits and hopeful about their release.
AMY GOODMAN: Some of the fathers in your meeting broke down crying?
CASEY MILLER: Yes, yes, all of them did. They’ve just been tortured psychologically by ICE time and time again, and they’re just fearful that anything like this could happen again at any time. And they’ve just had everything, you know, pushed upon them and are at the breaking point. So, yes, every man I met with at some point did break down in tears.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. We’ll continue to be on this story. Casey Miller and Manoj Govindaiah, with RAICES, the Texas-based legal aid group for immigrants.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we remember the longtime pacifist, presidential candidate, gay socialist, David McReynolds. He’s just died at the age of 88. Stay with us.