The message being sent by the U.S. government is that when frightened women and children come to America seeking sanctuary, we will imprison them
Drive south from San Antonio across the flat, derrick-studded, orange-dirt plains of South Texas, veer off Interstate 35 into the tiny fracking boomtown of Dilley, park in a gravel lot, get buzzed in, and you have arrived at the complex of trailers that comprise the South Texas Family Residential Center. This is the largest of three facilities where the U.S. government locks up immigrant women and children who are picked up—or request asylum—at the U.S.-Mexico border. ACLU lawyer Carl Takei describes the place as an internment camp. I’ve also heard it variously described as a “baby jail,” “worse than a Syrian refugee camp,” a “prison camp,” a “concentration camp,” and, what it most feels like: a grand, inhumane, discriminatory “shitshow.”
Mostly, though, the center is just referred to as “Dilley,” as I learned in my week as a volunteer there with CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, a legal-aid clinic. Dilley is privately run by the for-profit prison contractor Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Inside, after you pass through security, you will find women and children confined, humiliated and denied due process by the U.S. government and its private, predatory henchman, CCA.
By any other name CCA’s website advertises the detention center as providing “care with dignity and respect.” But no matter how much window dressing CCA and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) put on Dilley, they are “using a prison model to detain 2,000 women and children,” says Brian Hoffman, lead attorney at CARA. Inmates can’t leave and are closely watched by guards. They are subject to multiple headcounts during the day and bed checks at night, and afforded little privacy.
Opened in December 2014 and still expanding to its full capacity of 2,400, Dilley is part of the explosion in family detention, which has expanded thirtyfold over the last year, from fewer than 100 beds to nearly 3,000, according to Human Rights Watch. Facing heat last summer about the thousands of Central American children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Obama administration announced a “solution” that drew condemnation from many human-rights groups: It would open new facilities to detain families caught crossing the border and massage immigration policies to ramp up deportations of Central American migrants. Many of these women and children are fleeing violence, and have legitimate claims for asylum. But the new policies also introduced tougher screening for asylum-seekers, who are often stuck in family detention centers for months before their cases are heard. According to Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)—one of the groups running CARA—one month is the minimum stay at Dilley, two-and-a-half months is standard, and four to five months is typical in complicated cases.
To fight deportation and be considered for asylum, women and children must first prove they have “reasonable or credible fear” of returning to their home countries. If they pass this hurdle, they are eligible to bond out while they await their final asylum hearing—a process that can take months or even years. But bond prices in the family detention centers can be prohibitively high. In the now-closed Artesia Detention Center in New Mexico, the mean bond price was $17,000. Bonds at Dilley are sometimes as low as the legal minimum of $1,500, but are often between $4,000 and $8,000, and occasionally as high as $12,000, according to Williams.
Though school-age kids attend classes inside Dilley and have almost constant access to milk and apples, the atmosphere is punitive. Many of the children have colds or coughs. Medical attention is slow and, according to two of the women I interviewed, some sick kids are told by medical staff simply to drink water. This is the same tap water that the cook at a local drive-thru taco shop told me not to drink “ ’cause of the oil.” Residents are concerned about fracking wastewater contaminating their groundwater.
Many of the kids have trouble sleeping, and three of the women I spoke with reported that their children were depressed and not eating. One told me that her 11-year-old boy lost more than 10 pounds since coming to Dilley. “We are creating a mental health crisis,” Hoffman says. “These kids are going to have PTSD and need serious therapy.”
The long waits and tense conditions take their toll on the women, too. Despite the nearly round-the-clock efforts of CARA’s legal team, some women in Dilley lose their chance at legal status in the United States because they can no longer suffer being locked up. I spoke with one woman who had been in Dilley five months and, unable to handle it anymore, decided to be deported. The conditions at another family detention center, in Karnes, Texas, drove a 19-year-old woman to cut her wrists on June 4. She had a 4-year-old son with her and wrote in a suicide note that the detention center was “killing me little by little” and that she was “treated worse than an animal.” She survived and, four days later, was deported to Honduras.
Another woman said that she was humiliated when a Dilley guard immediately washed his hand after her toddler daughter touched it. “They think we have diseases,” she told me, breaking into sobs.
One girl I met begged her mother to agree to deportation because she didn’t want to have her ninth birthday in prison. What she wanted was ice cream, which is not available inside Dilley. Another girl, having been held for the past 10 months in family detention centers in Artesia, Karnes and now Dilley, included an ICE officer in a picture she drew of her family.
A hellish journey
For these women and children, the ordeal at the hands of the U.S. government begins long before Dilley, with the immigration policies that leave them few options besides the dangerous overland journey from Central America to the United States. Many pay “coyotes” $7,000 or $8,000 to lead them across a country, Mexico, that Salvadoran writer Óscar Martinez describes as an “inferno” for undocumented migrants. As Joseph Sorrentino reported in the May issue of
, an estimated 60 percent of women migrating through Mexico are raped, and as many as 20,000 migrants are kidnapped each year.
Yet there is no other viable recourse for those fleeing the gang and drug violence epidemic in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Some try to apply for U.S. refugee visas in their home countries, but ceilings are absurdly low: In September 2014, President Obama set a ceiling of 70,000 on the number of political refugees that could be resettled in the United States over the next year, only 4,000 of which were allocated to Latin America and the Caribbean. The previous year, nearly 240,000 Central American migrants were apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border. The common—and fatuous—“get in line” argument for immigrants to follow the proper legal channels proves dubious when those channels are blocked for most.
In Dilley, I spoke with a woman, Pabla (a pseudonym), who left El Salvador with her 13-year old son, Jorge (also a pseudonym), because gang members in one of the most murderous places in the world had begun trying to recruit him. After paying $7,000 for the trip from El Salvador to Texas, they were kidnapped by the brutal drug cartel Los Zetas in the Mexican border city of Reynosa and held for six days until Pabla's sister-in-law in the United States could send $3,000 in ransom to save their lives. When I asked Jorge about the kidnapping, he shrugged his bony, narrow shoulders, not wanting to talk about it.
After being released, the pair crossed the Rio Grande in a raft and turned themselves in to the Border Patrol, explaining that they were scared for their lives in El Salvador and were seeking asylum. Next, they spent three days in the overcrowded, freezing-cold Border Patrol holding cells known as
or ice boxes. Inside the hielerasthey were given little to eat and nothing to sit or sleep on but an aluminum blanket. Jorge got sick. In the days that followed, mother and son were transfered three times, and some of their paperwork and belongings were lost, including a slip of paper with all the phone numbers of their family members. Finally, they were shipped to Dilley, where they were stuffed into a “cabin” with 10 strangers, afforded no privacy and told when to go to sleep and when to wake up.
Pabla broke into tears in front of me and a fellow volunteer—two strangers—as we tried to help her find a phone number for a family member who could post her and her son’s $5,000 bond. If they come up with that money, their trip will have cost them a total of $15,000 dollars to date: $7,000 to a coyote, $3,000 to Los Zetas and $5,000 to the U.S. government. In El Salvador, median monthly incomes are $661 for urban households and $362 for rural households. Though the bonds are often refundable, it can take years.
Another woman told me she’d gone hungry for days in the hielera, receiving only a few white bread and ham sandwiches each day. She was so traumatized by the experience that she had trouble swallowing food in Dilley and would occasionally break into tears when she smelled meat.
From the standpoint of these women and children, what’s the difference between the U.S. government, coyotes and Los Zetas? Each captures frightened women and children fleeing violence and holds them against their will for thousands of dollars.
Execs from CCA, GEO Group and the other for-profit corporations involved in family and immigration detention also get their cut. CCA charges the government an estimated $296 dollars a day for each detained woman or child, according to the
. At a capacity of 2,400, that will amount to over $250 million a year to lock up non-criminals: Your tax dollars paying for months of child incarceration.
Also, because of ICE’s inefficiency, there are some women who “are languishing back there whose bond has been paid,” Hoffman told me. For every four days that one of these women remains stuck in prison because of bureaucratic logjamming, CCA makes another thousand bucks. (Neither ICE nor CCA responded to requests for comment on this article.)
Denied due process
Unlike criminal defendants, immigrants fighting deportation, including asylum-seekers, are not guaranteed counsel in court. Even if they were, the remote location of many of the immigration detention centers make it exceedingly difficult to find representation. And although those seeking asylum from inside Dilley are entitled to a hearing even without counsel, often no one bothers to explain that to them. “A lot of these women,” Hoffman tells me, “believe they will never see a judge unless their deportation officer decides to let them.”
Twice in my week at Dilley, I witnessed the arbitrary meting of justice to asyum seekers. In the first case, I sat with a woman, Carolina (a pseudonym), for her Credible Fear Interview (CFI), the proceeding in which an Asylum Officer (AO) assesses a client’s credible fear and potential eligibility for asylum. I had twice met with Carolina, as well as her 2-year-old daughter, Elisa (also a pseudonym), to help Carolina hash out her story and clarify her claim.
Carolina had lived and worked with a circus troupe since she was a girl, traveling throughout Honduras to give performances. Rival gangs Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Mara 18 both took advantage of the troupe, extorting them and using them to hide fugitive members under threat of death. Once, when Carolina refused to perform in order to distract police from fugitive gang members, an MS-13 member stabbed her twice in the leg. Another MS-13 member repeatedly robbed her, threatening to kill both Carolina and her daughter if she didn’t give him money or if she went to the police.
For Carolina’s CFI, the AO used a phone-in interpretation service. Carolina, the AO and I sat in an antiseptic office in one of Dilley’s trailers. At first, Carolina had trouble hearing the interpreter. Then the interpreter had trouble hearing Carolina. In the playroom, heard through the thin trailer wall, a child started crying. Throughout the interview, the interpreter repeatedly misunderstood Carolina. I tried to correct the translation, but the AO officer wouldn’t let me speak. The AO missed the most important thread of Carolina’s story—that of being intimidated by the rival gangs, the fear she most often described to me.
Reduced to passive observation for over two hours, I was given a chance to make a closing statement at the end of the interview, in which, shuffling rapidly through 10 pages of notes, I corrected a number of translation mistakes, and then attempted to encapsulate a life of fear and hopelessness in a few minutes on behalf a woman I had met the previous day and who was from a country I have never been to—not to mention the fact that I’m not a lawyer and hadn’t heard of a CFI until about a week before. Toward the end of the interview, Carolina was reduced to tears as the frustrated AO resorted to a blatantly patronizing tone when Carolina tried to repeat part of her story. The AO then apologized—to me, in English—that she didn’t have any tissues. Weeks later, the AO officer denied Carolina’s claim of credible fear. With the help of CARA volunteers, she appealed the ruling on June 19, but was denied again.
I also sat in on a tele-hearing in which an indigenous Mam speaker from Guatemala appeared before a flat screen television to appeal an AO’s decision that she did not have credible fear of persecution. In Miami, the judge held court in front of a camera and a screen of her own. She had a Spanish interpreter in the courtroom and a Mam interpreter on a telephone loudspeaker. The questions to the client went from Judge (in Miami) to Spanish Interpreter (Miami) to Mam interpreter (undisclosed location) to client (Dilley) back to Mam Interpreter (undisclosed location) to Spanish interpreter (Miami) back to judge (Miami). That is: English to Spanish to Mam to Mam to Spanish to English, in three locations. Not surprisingly, it was a total bungle, but this time with a positive result for the woman. The judge, obviously frustrated, vacated the asylum officer’s decision, allowing the woman’s asylum plea to move forward.
In a blog post, Laura Lichter, former president of AILA, described the life-and-death stakes of representation in these cases:
Statistics show that the most important factors in an asylum claim are whether an applicant has legal help. … Losing asylum doesn’t just mean that someone won’t have an opportunity for the American dream. In these cases, the difference between winning and deportation is the difference between life and death. Just because the facility plans to offer Zumba classes and is putting in sod for a soccer field doesn’t make Dilley any less of a deportation mill.
The women and children in Dilley could go on to win their cases. Eighty-eight percent of those in family detention centers have been found to have a credible fear of persecution.
But that means this mass detention of asylum seekers is simply a cruel and insolent political gambit. When Dilley opened in December 2014, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson asserted that the facility would serve as “an effective deterrent” to further immigration. That’s despite the fact that two recent reports, by International Detention Coalition and Detention Watch Network, concluded that not only is deterring immigration through detention ineffective, it is also illegal under international and U.S. law.
In February, a federal court came to the same conclusion after a group of asylum-seekers detained in Karnes and other facilities sued DHS over its deterrence strategy. The court’s order blocked ICE from using deterrence as a reason to detain immigrants, but the Obama administration continues to fight it.
Bad press and protests inside and outside the centers have caused the government to make further reforms. In March, 78 mothers detained in Karnes went on a hunger strike; in May, over 500 protesters gathered in Dilley chanting for DHS to “shut it down”; and on June 22, hundreds of women in Dilley protested their living conditions during a congressional visit to the facility. Two days later, DHS pledged to reduce the amount of time immigrants spend in family detention centers by conducting credible fear interviews within a reasonable timeframe, and giving women and children awaiting asylum hearings the chance to bond out at affordable rates.
But advocates question whether this spells meaningful change for the women and children at Dilley. “This is about the third time in the last few months that we have gotten a ‘statement’ about improvements to family detention, but in all honesty, none of the prior statements made much of an impact on the ground,” says Lichter. Ongoing petty obstructions—like impediments to bringing in computer monitors—make her wonder if Dilley authorities “got the memo.”
Ultimately, says Lichter, “You can’t polish a turd. … Detaining asylum seekers is wrong, misguided and cruel. Jailing moms and kids is not humane.”
Instead of pinning their hopes on ICE reforms, advocates are looking to a lawsuit that could force the centers to close entirely. In April, a U.S. district court agreed with litigants that the centers violate guidelines established by
—a 1997 district court decision that established strict limitations on U.S. detention of children—and issued a tentative order directing that the detained children be released. ICE is still negotiating the implementation, however, and advocates worry that the series of proposed reforms may be a tactic to avoid closing the detention centers.
Meanwhile, the message being sent is that when frightened women and children come to the United States seeking sanctuary, we will lock them up and make them jump through hoops of red tape with little or no representation.
Even if Dilley is shut down or the Obama administration puts an end to family deportation entirely, the victory will never undo the traumatic effects on these women and children or wash away the stain on our national history.
At the close of one 16-hour day, with a similar marathon starting in a few hours, Hoffman leaned back in his chair and mused: “Who’s going to be the first Dilley Kid to go to space? Who’s going to be the first Dilley Kid to become a valedictorian, or graduate from Harvard Medical School? … They’re going to talk about their time in Dilley, telling the world, ‘You wouldn’t believe what happened to me in there.’ ”
Governor orders probe of abuse claims by immigrant children
WASHINGTON (AP) — Virginia's governor ordered state officials Thursday to investigate abuse claims by children at an immigration detention facility who said they were beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cells.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced the probe in a tweet hours after The Associated Press reported the allegations. They were included in a federal civil rights lawsuit with a half-dozen sworn statements from Latino youths held for months or years at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center. The AP report also cited an adult who saw bruises and broken bones the children said were caused by guards.
Northam, a Democrat, said the allegations were disturbing and directed the state's secretary of public safety and homeland security and the Department of Juvenile Justice to report back to him "to ensure the safety of every child being held there."
Children as young as 14 said the guards there stripped them of their clothes and strapped them to chairs with bags placed over their heads.
"Whenever they used to restrain me and put me in the chair, they would handcuff me," said a Honduran immigrant who was sent to the facility when he was 15 years old. "Strapped me down all the way, from your feet all the way to your chest, you couldn't really move. ... They have total control over you. They also put a bag over your head. It has little holes; you can see through it. But you feel suffocated with the bag on."
In addition to the children's first-hand, translated accounts in court filings, a former child-development specialist who worked inside the facility independently told The Associated Press this week that she saw kids there with serious injuries. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to publicly discuss the children's cases.
In court filings, lawyers for the detention facility have denied all the allegations of physical abuse. The incidents described in the lawsuit occurred from 2015 to 2018, during both the Obama and Trump administrations.
Many of the children were sent there after U.S. immigration authorities accused them of belonging to violent gangs, including MS-13. President Donald Trump has repeatedly cited gang activity as justification for his crackdown on illegal immigration.
Trump said Wednesday that "our Border Patrol agents and our ICE agents have done one great job" cracking down on MS-13 gang members. "We're throwing them out by the thousands," he said.
But a top manager at the Shenandoah center said during a recent congressional hearing that the children did not appear to be gang members and were suffering from mental health issues resulting from trauma that happened in their home countries — problems the detention facility is ill-equipped to treat.
"The youth were being screened as gang-involved individuals. And then when they came into our care, and they were assessed by our clinical and case management staff ... they weren't necessarily identified as gang-involved individuals," said Kelsey Wong, a program director at the facility. She testified April 26 before a Senate subcommittee reviewing the treatment of immigrant children apprehended by the Homeland Security Department.
Most children held in the Shenandoah facility who were the focus of the abuse lawsuit were caught crossing the border illegally alone. They were not the children who have been separated from their families under the Trump administration's recent policy and are now in the government's care. But the facility operates under the same program run by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. It was not immediately clear whether any separated children have been sent to Shenandoah Valley since the Trump administration in April announced its "zero tolerance" policy toward immigrant families, after the lawsuit was filed.
It also was not immediately clear when federal authorities first learned of the abuse claims and whether any action was taken. Spokespeople for the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, did not respond to multiple requests for comment Wednesday and Thursday.
Robert Carey, who served as director of Refugee Resettlement under the Obama administration, said Tuesday he only heard about the complaints at the Shenandoah center after he left office in January 2017. Had he known, Carey said, he "would have been all over that trying to figure out what needed to be done, including termination of contracts."
Following AP's report about the abuse accusations, Virginia's two Democratic senators said Thursday they would seek to investigate conditions inside the Shenandoah facility.
In a tweet, Sen. Tim Kaine said: "Deeply troubled by this report. We need answers on what happened at this facility, and my staff and I are going to demand them."
Sen. Mark Warner said at a public forum on immigration issues that he will seek to visit the detention center.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican whose home district includes the Shenandoah facility, said he was unaware of any complaints prior to the AP's report. An architect of the current effort by GOP conservatives to pass tougher restrictions on legal immigration, Goodlatte called the abuse allegations "alarming" and said they "certainly merit a thorough investigation to uncover the truth."
The Shenandoah lockup is one of only three juvenile detention facilities in the United States with federal contracts to provide "secure placement" for children who had problems at less-restrictive housing. The Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility in California has faced litigation over immigrant children mischaracterized as gang members. In Alexandria, Virginia, a multi-jurisdiction commission overseeing the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center has said it will end its federal contract to house young immigration detainees when it expires in September.
The Shenandoah detention center was built by a coalition of seven nearby towns and counties to lock up local kids charged with serious crimes. Since 2007, about half the 58 beds are occupied by male and female immigrants between the ages of 12 and 17 facing deportation proceedings or awaiting rulings on asylum claims. Though incarcerated in a facility similar to a prison, the children detained on administrative immigration charges have not yet been convicted of any crime.
Virginia ranks among the worst states in the nation for wait times in federal immigration courts, with an average of 806 days before a ruling. Nationally, only about half of juveniles facing deportation are represented by a lawyer, according to Justice Department data.
On average, 92 immigrant children each year cycle through Shenandoah, most of them from Mexico and Central America.
Wong said many of the 30 or so children housed there on any given day have mental health needs that would be better served in a residential treatment unit. But such facilities are often unwilling to accept children with significant behavioral issues, she said.
Wong and other managers at the Shenandoah center, including Executive Director Timothy J. Smith, did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment this week.
Financial statements reviewed by AP shows the local government commission that operates the center received nearly $4.2 million in federal funds last year to house the immigrant children — enough to cover about two-thirds of the total operating expenses.
The lawsuit filed against Shenandoah alleges that young Latino immigrants held there "are subjected to unconstitutional conditions that shock the conscience, including violence by staff, abusive and excessive use of seclusion and restraints, and the denial of necessary mental health care."
The complaint filed by the nonprofit Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs recounts the story of an unnamed 17-year-old Mexican citizen apprehended at the southern border. The teen fled an abusive father and violence fueled by drug cartels to seek asylum in the United States in 2015.
After stops at facilities in Texas and New York, he was transferred to Shenandoah in April 2016 and diagnosed during an initial screening by a psychologist with three mental disorders, including depression. Besides weekly sessions speaking with a counselor, the lawsuit alleges the teen has received no further mental health treatment, such as medications that might help regulate his moods and behavior.
The lawsuit recounts multiple alleged violent incidents between Latino children and staff at the Shenandoah center. It describes the guards as mostly white, non-Spanish speakers who are undertrained in dealing with individuals with mental illness. The suit alleges staff members routinely taunt the Latino youths with racially charged epithets, including "wetback," ''onion head" and "pendejo," which roughly translates to dumbass in Spanish.
A 16-year-old boy who said he had lived in Texas with his mother since he was an infant ended up at Shenandoah in September after a police officer pulled over a car he was riding in and asked for ID, which he couldn't provide. As one of the few Latino kids who is fluent in English, the teen would translate for other detainees the taunts and names the staff members were calling them. He said that angered the guards, resulting in his losing such modest privileges as attending art classes.
"If you are behaving bad, resisting the staff when they try to remove you from the program, they will take everything in your room away — your mattress, blanket, everything," he said. "They will also take your clothes. Then they will leave you locked in there for a while. This has happened to me, and I know it has happened to other kids, too."
The immigrant detainees said they were largely segregated from the mostly white juveniles being held on criminal charges, but they could see that the other housing units had amenities that included plush chairs and video gaming consoles not available in the Spartan pods housing the Latinos.
In their sworn statements, the teens reported spending the bulk of their days locked alone in their cells, with a few hours set aside for classroom instruction, recreation and meals. Some said they had never been allowed outdoors, while the U.S.-born children were afforded a spacious recreation yard.
The Latino children reported being fed sparse and often cold meals that left them hungry, though meals of American fast food were occasionally provided. Records show Shenandoah receives nearly $82,000 a year from the Agriculture Department to feed the immigration detainees.
The lawsuit said the poor conditions, frequent physical searches and verbal abuse by staff often escalated into confrontations, as the frustrated children acted out. The staff regularly responded "by physically assaulting the youth, applying an excessive amount of force that goes far beyond what is needed to establish or regain control."
In the case of the Mexican 17-year-old, the lawsuit said a staff member who suspected him of possessing contraband threw him to the ground and forcibly tore off his clothes for an impromptu strip search. Though no forbidden items were found, the teenager was transferred to "Alpha Pod," described in the lawsuit as a unit within the facility designated for children who engage in bad behavior.
The lawsuit said Latino children were frequently punished by being restrained for hours in chairs, with handcuffs and cloth shackles on their legs. Often, the lawsuit alleged, the children were beaten by staff while bound.
As a result of such "malicious and sadistic applications of force," the immigrant youths have "sustained significant injuries, both physical and psychological," the lawsuit said.
After an altercation during which the lawsuit alleged the Mexican teenager bit a staff member during a beating, he was restrained in handcuffs and shackles for 10 days, resulting in bruises and cuts. Other teens interviewed as part of the court case also reported being punished for minor infractions with stints in solitary confinement, during which some of the children said they were left nude and shivering in cold concrete cells.
Academic studies of prison inmates kept in solitary confinement have found they often experience high anxiety that can cause panic attacks, paranoia and disordered thinking that may trigger angry outbursts. For those with mental health issues, the effects can be exacerbated, often worsening the very behaviors the staff is attempting to discourage.
A Guatemalan youth sent to the center when he was 14 years old said he was often locked in his tiny cell for up to 23 hours a day. After resisting the guards, he said he was also restrained for long periods.
"When they couldn't get one of the kids to calm down, the guards would put us in a chair — a safety chair, I don't know what they call it — but they would just put us in there all day," the teen said in a sworn statement. "This happened to me, and I saw it happen to others, too. It was excessive."
A 15-year-old boy from Mexico held at Shenandoah for nine months also recounted being restrained with a bag over his head.
"They handcuffed me and put a white bag of some kind over my head," he said, according to his sworn statement. "They took off all of my clothes and put me into a restraint chair, where they attached my hands and feet to the chair. They also put a strap across my chest. They left me naked and attached to that chair for two and a half days, including at night."
After being subjected to such treatment, the 17-year-old Mexican youth said he tried to kill himself in August, only to be punished with further isolation. On other occasions, he said, he has responded to feelings of desperation and hopelessness by cutting his wrists with a piece of glass and banging his head against the wall or floor.
"One time I cut myself after I had gotten into a fight with staff," the teen recounted. "I filled the room with blood. This happened on a Friday, but it wasn't until Monday that they gave me a bandage or medicine for the pain."
The lawsuit alleges other immigrant youths held at Shenandoah have also engaged in cutting and other self-harming behaviors, including ingesting shampoo and attempting to choke themselves.
A hearing in the case is set for July 3 before a federal judge in the Western District of Virginia.
Lawyers on both sides in the lawsuit either did not respond to messages or declined to comment, citing strict confidentiality requirements in the case involving children.
The child development specialist who previously worked with teens at Shenandoah told AP that many there developed severe psychological problems after experiencing abuse from guards.
"The majority of the kids we worked with when we went to visit them were emotionally and verbally abused. I had a kid whose foot was broken by a guard," she said. "They would get put in isolation for months for things like picking up a pencil when a guard had said not to move. Some of them started hearing voices that were telling them to hurt people or hurt themselves, and I knew when they had gotten to Shenandoah they were not having any violent thoughts."
She said she never witnessed staff abuse teens first-hand, but that teens would complain to her of injuries from being tackled by guards and reveal bruises. The specialist encouraged them to file a formal complaint.
Though lawyers for Shenandoah responded with court filings denying all wrongdoing, information contained in a separate 2016 lawsuit appears to support some of the information contained in the recent abuse complaints.
In a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against the Shenandoah center, a former staff member said he worked in a unit called "Alpha Pod" where immigrant minors were held, "including those with psychological and mental issues and those who tend to fight more frequently."
The guard, Trenton Farris, who denied claims that he punched two children, sued the justice center alleging he was wrongly targeted for firing because he is black. Farris said most staff members at the facility are white, and that two white staff members involved in the incident over which he was fired went unpunished.
Lawyers for the center denied the former guard's claims, and the case was settled in January.
Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, most adults have accepted that we live in a new era of trying times.
Tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, as well as explosions, and other traumatic events threaten our sense of safety and security, and they occur around the world on any given day. Adults often struggle with the effects of trauma, even though they understand them. But children react differently based on their personality, age, and circumstances.
Children rely on the support of parents and teachers to help them deal with their emotions during and after traumatic events. Parents should decide how much information their children can handle.
ADAA member Aureen Wagner, PhD, Director of The Anxiety Wellness Center in Cary, North Carolina, offers this recommendation for parents:
“Remain as calm as possible; watch and listen to your child to understand how upset he or she is. Explain a traumatic event as accurately as possible, but don’t give graphic details. It’s best not to give more information than your child asks for. Let your child know that it is normal to feel upset, scared or angry. If older children or teenagers want to watch television or read news online about a traumatic event, be available to them, especially to discuss what they are seeing and reading.”
These tips are important for children and adolescents of all ages:
Most children and teenagers will recover from their fear. But you can watch for these signs of ongoing distress:
If after a month or so your child is still showing signs of distress, professional help may be indicated. Children who have trouble getting beyond their fears may be suffering from PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder. And that’s when it’s time to seek the assistance of a mental health professional. Many effective treatments are available for children and teens.
The news of the latest terrorist attacks may trigger anxious thoughts and feelings in those who have experienced or witnessed life-threatening events. ADAA provides free resources to help children and adults manage and overcome PTSD and other anxiety and related disorders.
Learn more about PTSD here, including effective treatments.
PTSD can occur after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, including a terrorist attack like 9/11 or those in Paris; the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon; combat; earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, tornado, or other natural disaster; serious auto or plane accidents; personal assault or abuse; or the sudden death of a loved one.
Symptoms may include flashbacks and nightmares; emotional numbness and avoidance; difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated. Most people recover from their experiences, but people who have PTSD continue to be severely depressed and anxious for months—or even years—following the event.
Because children react differently than adults to the effects of trauma, the ADAA website offers practical advice on how to help your child manage traumatic events. Dr. Aureen Wagner, Director of The Anxiety Wellness Center in Cary, North Carolina, says that if your children is traumatized, “Remain as calm as possible. Explain a traumatic event as accurately as possible, but don’t give graphic details. It’s best not to give more information than your child asks for. Let your child know that it is normal to feel upset, scared or angry.”
Also on the website is a podcast with Dr. Judith Cohen, Medical Director of the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children & Adolescents at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, explains how children experience PTSD and treatments that are particularly effective for them.
PTSD: A different response to trauma.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a traumatic event, that is, something terrible and scary that you have seen or that happens to you. It can also occur if you learn that the traumatic event occurred to someone close to you. Some examples of traumatic events include:
During a traumatic event, you may think that that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel very afraid and that you have no control over what is happening around you.
Most people have some stress-related reactions after a traumatic event, but not everyone gets PTSD. If your reactions don't go away and these feelings are disrupting your life, you may have PTSD.
Many symptoms of depression and anxiety overlap with the symptoms of PTSD. For example, in both PTSD and depression, you may have trouble sleeping or keeping your mind focused, lose pleasure or interest in things you used to enjoy, drink more alcohol or take more drugs, and avoid other people. It’s quite possible to experience PTSD along with depression or anxiety.
Read more about PTSD here on the Mental Health Foundation website.
ACC funds support following sexual abuse or assault, in your time, on your terms.
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It's a normal part of life to experience occasional anxiety.But you may experience anxiety that is persistent, seemingly uncontrollable, and overwhelming. If it’s an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it can be disabling. When anxiety interferes with daily activities, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are real, serious medical conditions - just as real and serious as physical disorders such as heart disease or diabetes. Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in the United States.
The term "anxiety disorder" refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry, and includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are closely related to anxiety disorders, which some may experience at the same time as depression.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, also called IBS, is characterized by abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. Click here to learn more about IBS and its connection to stress and anxiety.
What is Anxiety? (from ADAA's partner organization Anxiety.org) is an in-depth analysis and explanation of key anxiety disorders written by ADAA member experts.
Depression is a condition in which a person feels discouraged, sad, hopeless, unmotivated, or disinterested in life in general for more than two weeks and when the feelings interfere with daily activities. Major depression is a treatable illness that affects the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and functions. At any point in time, 3 to 5 percent of people suffer from major depression; the lifetime risk is about 17 percent.
Facts and StatisticsAnxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting children and adults. An estimated 44 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders. Only about one-third of those suffering from an anxiety disorder receive treatment, even though the disorders are highly treatable.