DALLAS — An 8-year-old girl was separated from her pregnant mother and left behind for four days at a detention center established to hold immigrant families together while they await outcomes to their cases.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say they had to transfer the Honduran woman because she twice resisted attempts to deport her and was potentially disruptive. ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said guards and ICE staff watched over the child after her mother was removed from the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility, a former Central Texas prison where non-criminal immigrant families are held while their cases are processed.
But others are critical of the agency's handling of the case, saying it put the girl at risk and is yet another example of why the controversial facility should be closed.
"Here, it's the government itself that has the custody of this child and then leaves her without proper supervision," said Denise Gilman, who oversees the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, which provides legal services to Hutto detainees. "We certainly don't want to see it happen again."
The 28-year-old mother and child lost a bid for asylum and are back in Honduras. But Immigration Clinic attorneys plan to file a complaint with the federal government.
"There is something to complain about, because we're talking about a child's welfare," said Michelle Brane, director of the detention and asylum program at the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children. "This is a perfect example of why family detention just doesn't work."
But Irma Banegas of Fort Worth said that's not what happened in the case of her sister and niece. She asked that they not be identified by name due to concerns for their safety in Central America.
Banegas said the mother and daughter told her they cried inconsolably after they were awakened and separated. "They've never been apart," Banegas said of her sister and her niece. Banegas said the pair fled Honduras earlier this year to escape an abusive relationship and growing gang violence in that country, including attacks that scarred her sister.
The agency attempted to deport the woman twice in October, but she wouldn't comply. ICE officials didn't reveal specifics about her efforts to resist deportation.
But as a result, Rusnok said, she was considered a high risk for disruptive behavior and moved to a South Texas detention center in Pearsall on Oct. 18.
"That kind of fear it strikes to the heart of all other children," Gilman said.