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Border & Immigration

Songs Of Protest And Symbols Of Hope, As Protestors Rally At Under-Fire Detention Center

Credit Ryan Loyd / TPR News
TPR News
Picketers made paper handcuffs and hung them on the sign in front of the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City.

Ringing protest chants and flashy signs greeted security at the Karnes County Residential Center Saturday, southeast of San Antonio, where 60 people gathered in solidarity with immigrant women and children housed inside; immigrants who made it across the U.S. border after fleeing violence in Central America.

Guards blocked the driveway to the facility to keep the rally-goers from getting too close to the building, but it did not stop the protesters from talking about freeing the internees or trying to drum up support for the money that will be needed to bring immigrant families out on bond.

The 532-bed facility at Karnes opened early this summer as a civil detention center but in July was modified to a residential center to accommodate children as well. Problems inside the facility, including allegations of sexual assault, insufficient medical care and mistreatment of the immigrants have brought the center, privately run by the GEO Group, under scrutiny. Those allegations are why protestors show up outside the center. They want the women inside to hear their message on the evening news and radio, and feel their empathy and support.

The group outside the facility included some children, who also wanted their message, and their voice, heard. Little ones with the group outside the residential center attempted to deliver letters they'd written to the immigrant children on Saturday. But they also met with opposition and their letters were not delivered.

Eva Gray, who lives in Austin, wondered why the families were being denied justice.

"I’m here because I really want to see an end to deportation in general, the criminalization of those who are not guilty of any sort of crime," she said passionately. "I just want to see children playing and the ability to have their cases heard. They're really being denied all those things."

The rally saw another unique symbolic protest. Picketers, armed with construction paper handcuffs of all colors, carefully unfolded the rings until they were in a straight line, and then talked about the meaning behind those symbolic handcuffs. One woman cried out a question: What's wrong about the name of the center? Answers from the crowd were swift and unequivocal. This wasn't, in their opinion, a residential center. It's a "jail."

The protesters. by the large, gathered at the Karnes facility with one basic philosophy: they believe detainees have rights, and they believe the rights of child detainees are encompassed in one phrase: "Education, not deportation."

After a while, the group took the handcuffs and placed them on the sign of the center, located near the street. But their moving forward onto the grounds of the facility summoned the police and Karnes County Sheriff, Dwayne Villanueva, who asked people to move back.

"We're just here for public safety," he said. "That's all we're there for. But if something happens in house, of course ICE, they'll get somebody from in house, from their department, to investigate."

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in San Antonio runs the center. which has come under fire recently for reports of alleged sexual abuse. The GEO Group has denied wrongdoing by its guards. Villanueva said as far as he can tell, none of the allegations have been backed up by proof.

This week, the immigration law group, RAICES, plans to bond out three families. Leaders with the group are trying to raise money - at least $12,000 so far. But bonding out three families this week will deplete their funds completely, so they are asking for more partners to free the families.

A spokesperson for the group said the main reasons for the rally was to let the immigrants inside the building know that there are people on the outside trying to help.

As the rally goers left, security personnel removed the symbolic handcuffs from the sign out front. The main reason for their rally was to let those inside know that they are were not alone, and there were people on the outside working to set them free. With that knowledge, they hoped those inside would hold onto their faith and keep the thought of a better tomorrow in mind. It's the reason, after all, so many of the detainees defied the odds initially to make their desperate American journey.