Detention Conditions

Food quality

Refugees report being fed only rice and beans, never meat (pork or chicken). Respondents reported getting chicken only during congressional visits. Refugees reported finding centipedes in their rice and beans. The food in the detention centers is reported to be fair to very bad. Deliberately serving bad, maggoty food with centipedes, withholding food, or providing it only a strictly structured times represents a well-known strategy to enforce discipline and domination, to dehumanize, to establish a state of exception, and to reinforce refugee perceptions of being in a zone of abandonment (Agamben 2005 Biehl 2005 Carney 2013).

Strict, exigent meal times

Meals are served at strictly scheduled times, and if meals are missed they are not replaced by compensatory snacks or other nourishment. Attorneys for the CARA Pro Bono Project said that court is often scheduled at lunchtime, and refugees are forced to miss lunch.

Child weight loss

There were several reports of children losing weight because of the poor quality of the food or exigent meal times. Refugees reported the meal hours at the detention center were fixed and that their children did not always eat at these fixed hours. One refugee reported that because of the poor quality of the food, her three year-old son lost seven pounds in one month another reported her five-year-old daughter lost five pounds in two months another reported that her teenage son had gone down four pant sizes. A supervising attorney from CARA related that a three-year-old child lost 14 pounds during detention because the mother was not permitted to enter the cafeteria, because she did not have shoes. For this case, legal action has been initiated. [5] One mother reported having access to apples and cereal to give her daughter when she was hungry thus food availability may have been inconsistent and based on affective relationships between specific detainees and specific guards.

Inadequate medical care

One of the refugees reported her child was given an adult dose of a vaccine and became ill as a result. There were repeated measles and chicken pox outbreaks at Karnes. Quarantined sections were set up to keep the refugees with outbreaks separate from other refugees who were not ill at Karnes while the facility underwent a thorough sanitation.

A child participant reported that in Dilley people would get called to the doctor at night however, they were being deported instead of going to the doctor. This made going to bed or going to sleep very stressful and created fear of doctor visits.

Alternatives to detention

Bonds were inexplicably inconsistent, ranging from no bond at all to USD$15,000 most bonds were usually closer to USD$5,000–$7,500. There was no transparent logic to the different amounts. Ankle monitoring shackles were offered in place of bonds to some refugees. ICE contends that the monitoring bracelets result in 99.9% compliance with attendance at court dates (Peter 2015). However, refugees are not criminals whose whereabouts need to be monitored due to flight risk, since they are not seeking to return to their home countries because of threats to their lives. One refugee wearing an ankle monitoring shackle was given a court date in South Carolina but had no way of getting there and was unable to afford the USD$600 in bus fare for herself and her sons. If she does not appear in court, she will be found in criminal contempt and will be subject to deportation as someone who has committed a crime.

Participants expressed shame and discomfort with the ankle monitors (e.g., Participant 14). One woman reported that the monitor was heavy and hot, and burned her skin. They were afraid people would see the monitors and treat them as criminals. Women with ankle bracelets on their feet would often ask if their bracelets were visible and if we could notice them protruding from their pants. The ankle bracelets also would also beep loudly when the batteries were low, and the women had to stop whatever they were doing and charge their shackle.


Participants reported being compelled by ICE officials to sign documents they did not understand and could not read because of the language, and without legal counsel. Participants reported being told their children would be taken away from them by Child Protective Services if they did not comply with ICE rules and demands or if they complained about mental health issues. Attorneys reported being interfered with, such as not being allowed to go into the courtroom, by CCA at Dilley. [6] The research team’s investigation was also interfered with at Dilley without adequate transparency or explanation.

[5] Communication from attorney R. Andrew Free, CARA Pro Bono Project attorney debriefing meeting, Wednesday, July 22, 2015, Dilley, Texas.

[6] Communication from attorney R. Andrew Free, CARA Pro Bono Project attorney debriefing meeting, Wednesday, July 22, 2015, Dilley, Texas.

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