(San Antonio) – Today RAICES is reporting misconduct in the Flores v. Garland case that governs the detention of unaccompanied immigrant children. Pecos EIS is a detention facility that, since its inception, has violated its terms of agreement. The legal teams at RAICES have served tens of thousands of children in ORR care since 2012, but the reports we have received from both attorneys and clients on the conditions at Pecos are the worst we’ve ever observed. As a result, RAICES can’t in good conscience fail to blow the whistle on Pecos.
Pecos holds almost 1500 unaccompanied migrant children between the ages of thirteen and seventeen and the facility is expected to receive an influx of children as young as six years old in the upcoming days. The current population of children at Pecos is increasing at an alarming rate, while the San Antonio-based company managing it, Endeavors, is working to build its capacity to nearly 13,500 beds.
These numbers are troublesome because during RAICES tenure at Pecos, our legal team has witnessed disturbing conditions that put the health and welfare of these children in harm’s way including food-related abdominal pain from undercooked and spoiled food, and children being kept in cage-like rooms for most of the day. In addition, we have had clients who have not received proper medical attention after breaking bones, and know of children who have waited weeks in detention before they were able to speak to their attorney and sponsors. Approximately four in ten children we interviewed stayed longer than thirty days with numerous children staying over ninety days. These terrible conditions and extended delays are in violation of the Flores Settlement.
“Based upon my direct observations and experience working since 2005 as an attorney who primarily represents immigrants detained in Texas, I find the conditions at Pecos among the harshest and most restrictive of any ORR or ICE facility that I have visited in my career.” – Jonathan Ryan, President and CEO at RAICES
The Pecos detention center is in a remote location, similar to an outdoor maze. Rows of long, prefabricated buildings are used to house the children, and larger prefabricated buildings serve as a cafeteria and administrative offices. Several large tent structures are used for all other activities. Housing units are long prefabricated buildings containing small rooms with two bunks each on both sides of a narrow central hallway. The ground outside is covered in gravel and there is almost no shade anywhere. The hot sun reflects from every surface, and temperatures in Pecos this summer have already topped one hundred and ten degrees Fahrenheit.
RAICES provides legal services to children at fifteen ORR facilities in San Antonio, TX and in Corpus Christi, TX. In addition, RAICES has been providing legal services in 2021 at an Emergency Reception Center (“ERC”) in Carrizo Springs, TX, the EIS in Dimmit County, TX; and an EIS in San Antonio, TX. RAICES currently provides services at Pecos. The ORR facilities where RAICES provides services to unaccompanied noncitizen children are normally located close to populated metropolitan centers with large hiring pools and access to professional service providers, government oversight agencies, and that facilitate the reunification process. None of these qualities describes Pecos.
Families are also separated at Pecos. The separation of these family units within the detention center causes particular anxiety and stress with children who ask questions about the health and welfare of their sibling or relative, whether they can spend time together, and whether they will be released together. We are aware of at least one case of separated siblings at Pecos who received different reunification case managers, resulting in one child reunifying with their mother while their sibling continues to remain behind at Pecos.
RAICES is accountable to unaccompanied migrant children and the members of their community. We understand the risk of speaking out against the government facilities where we work, but we will always ring the alarm on policies, practices and institutions that harm immigrants – no matter who is in power. The conditions we’ve observed at Pecos underline how important it is to have legal presence inside ORR facilities, and the efforts currently underway to reduce these legal services should be rejected.
We call on HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, whose department is responsible for this facility, and other Democratic leaders to protect and provide urgent relief to unaccompanied migrant children by halting the intake of minors and shutting down the Pecos EIS facility immediately.
Jessica Ortiz firstname.lastname@example.org
This post was originally published on RAICES.