A Texas detention center for migrant mothers and children remains in turmoil following the attempted suicide of a detained teenage mother and the abrupt release of five pregnant women amid scrutiny of their detention and health care.
Lilian Oliva Bardales, 19, who has been held with her 4-year-old since October, locked herself in one of the bathrooms at the Karnes County Residential Center and cut her wrist in an apparent suicide attempt, one of her lawyers and advocates say. Residents said she was found in the bathroom around 4 p.m. Wednesday after she had been missing for about an hour.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials confirmed Thursday that a detainee “had a surface-level abrasion” on her wrist, but they said it was “a non-life threatening injury.” Supporters said it showed the tremendous pressure that detained mothers are under at the family detention centers.
“The fact that someone was driven to that situation is cause for concern,” said Javier Maldonado, one of Oliva’s attorneys. “I’m not sure in what universe it is acceptable to keep a person locked up after having attempted that.”
The incident is the latest to cast a shadow on the Obama administration’s family detention policy since the controversial approach was adopted to confront last year’s surge of tens of thousands of migrant families fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.
The release of the pregnant women and their children from the Karnes County center came hours after McClatchy reported Wednesday afternoon that the women were among the hundreds of mothers and children who have been locked up at three detention centers, in Karnes City and Dilley, Texas, and Berks County, Pa.
Three of the pregnant women were dropped off at the San Antonio Greyhound station Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, where they caught buses to Massachusetts, Georgia and Florida, according to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, an immigration rights group. Two other women were taken to the San Antonio airport, where one of them had a flight to Boston.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said that they couldn’t discuss specific cases, but that the release of detainees was made on a case-by-case basis. Richard Rocha, an ICE spokesman, said ICE takes the health of detainees very seriously and ensures they receive appropriate medical screenings and treatment. He said detainees receive pregnancy screenings at arrival, prenatal care and access to specialists.
Without addressing her by name, Rocha said the injured woman was evaluated by medical professionals at the facility who confirmed the injury was minor, but that they would seek assistance from specialized health care providers.
“ICE takes the health, safety and welfare of those in our care very seriously,” he said. “ICE is closely monitoring the situation and continues to investigate the circumstances.”
Oliva fled Honduras, where she was the victim of domestic violence from her partner who is six years older than she is. In her interview with federal officials seeking asylum, she told federal officials that he began beating her almost as soon as they met when she was just 13 years old.
“He would hit me with his belt, threatened to kill me with a machete and a gun, he grabbed me by the neck, he kicked,” she said, according to answers she gave during her Nov. 3 asylum interview. “He once hit me with a machete but not with the sharpened side so he did not cut me, he forced me to have sex with him on three occasions, and many other things.
In May, she lost her latest appeal to remain in the U.S.