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Immigrant fathers and sons strike to protest family separation at Texas detention facility

They say they were being "treated like animals."

More than 500 migrant fathers and sons being held at the ICE-operated Karnes County Residential Center in Texas say they plan to strike in protest of the harsh conditions they face in detention. (Photo credit: Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
More than 500 migrant fathers and sons being held at the ICE-operated Karnes County Residential Center in Texas say they plan to strike in protest of the harsh conditions they face in detention. (Photo credit: Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

More than 500 migrant fathers and sons being held at the ICE-operated Karnes County Residential Center in Texas say they plan to strike in protest of the harsh conditions they face in detention.

The fathers will refuse meals and stage a sit-in, while the sons will refuse to participate in school activities, according to the nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a Texas-based advocacy group.

RAICES relayed the group’s plan to reporters on Wednesday, as well as audio of interviews with affected fathers like Olivio, a Guatemalan migrant detained at the border in early May. According to the interview, Olivio was told he would only be separated from his son for a few days. They were separated for two months.

“We are planning a hunger strike tomorrow at this detention center because we don’t know anything,” Olivio said. “We are incarcerated in here and there’s not much we can do, so now we are all planning to gather in the patio and wait to see what happens.”

Like Olivio, many of the fathers and sons have been separated for anywhere from weeks to several months, leaving many feeling hopeless.

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“There are approximately 500 families here, and everyone is desperate to get out,” Jorge, another father detained at Karnes, told RAICES. “There are children crying and saying they want to leave this place.”

He added, “What worries me is that we are restrained from our freedom as human beings. … It is so bad in here, we were told that one of the detainees’ sons tried to hang himself.”

RAICES, which provides legal support to detained migrants, is concerned some of the fathers at Karnes were coerced into accepting deportation as a way to expedite their reunification process.

At least 431 immigrant parents who were separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border have been deported without their families, according to the Trump administration. Immigration lawyers say many others were similarly persuaded to sign documents waiving reunification, under the false pretense that they would see their children sooner. According to RAICES, some parents were given just a few minutes to sign documents written in English, even though the majority only speak Spanish or indigenous languages.

By contrast, upon receiving legal aid, many parents were informed that they have valid claims for asylum and have chosen to lobby their cases.

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The fathers and sons, along with more than 2,500 other immigrant children, were separated at the Southwest border as part of President Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, which refers anyone detained without documentation for prosecution. The policy also applied to those seeking asylum who crossed over between ports of entry, many because they had been turned away previously by border agents.

In the meantime, the fathers and sons at Karnes say they will fight back against family separations, which formally ended in June, after President Trump signed an executive order reversing the policy he himself had implemented earlier in the spring.

“There are 500 fathers and 500 children,” Jorge told RAICES. “We are going on a hunger strike, and we are not going to obey any of their orders. … We want to be released because we are desperate.”