Immigration holding centers must be reformed

Giselle Suazo

Our nation of immigrants is still plagued by a broken immigration system. Every day thousands are caught by Border Patrol and put in logjammed, unsanitary detention centers. They will remain there until their appointed time to meet with a judge to plead their case — a process that can take months. No human, regardless of any charges against them, deserves this treatment. 

The Houston Chronicle published a series of photographs sent to their headquarters by U.S. representative Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, that gave the country a rare look inside the living conditions immigrants face. They reveal numerous immigrants crammed together in small rooms that leave little space for movement.

These rooms don’t provide adequate sleeping arrangements aside from plastic blankets that many spread on the cold concrete floors. Men, women, and children are divided if space allows it, but there are instances where they are all placed in rooms together or in worst cases, cages that don’t provide much protection from outside elements. Children are allowed to stay with their mothers, but aren’t given the necessary means to sleep properly or shower.

An anonymous source has given us a look into her own experience at a Texas immigration holding center that reinforce what many say provide inhumane living conditions.

“I spent three months in the Laredo Detention center where I shared a small open room with 30 other women,” said the source. “There were no private bathrooms, showers or beds, the only privacy was provided by two curtains we hung up,”

The source also mentioned that the room had exposed cracks that bugs would crawl in from, biting the women as they slept on makeshift beds. The room had small windows that remained covered at all times, letting no sunlight in.

“The conditions weren’t ideal at all, the only time we would see the sun or the sky would be the few times the guards would let us outside,” said the source.

The guards would leave the women unattended for hours at a time. The source claims she never felt safe as the guards were not around in case of emergencies and would often just show up to feed them. She talks about a time when one of the women slipped and hit her head on the concrete while cleaning, an accident that left her unconscious.

“Some of the girls and I started banging on the door, it was the only way to get the guards’ attention, but no one came for several minutes and she wasn’t waking up,” said the source.

While crossing the border between the United States and Mexico is a punishable crime, the treatment these immigrants are met with isn’t a just response. Immigrants flee the relentless violence and crime that plagues countries across the American continent in hopes to find a peaceful new life.

Many of the holding centers across Texas and other states have received complaints from advocates citing mistreatment. The Obama administration has called this issue an 'urgent humanitarian situation'.  Since this statement was made and the photos were published, military installations have opened their doors to house more immigrants. But these buildings face the same struggles as they are not equipped to hold people for long periods of time.

Updating immigration detention centers and speeding up their trial appearances will be the start to mending a system that is badly broken. This is an issue that needs the attention of our current presidential candidates as they prepare to become the CEO of the United States. Our nation of immigrants deserves nothing less.

Suazo is an international relations & global studies junior from Honduras. Follow her on Twitter @giselle_suazo.