Eight congressional Democrats have returned from visiting two immigrant detention centers in Texas, and they agreed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to improve the detainees' living conditions.

The eight House Democrats visited the Karnes County Residential Center and South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Making the trip to Texas were California's Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Judy Chu and Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Texas Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Joaquin Castro.

"[The] stories that you heard from these mothers as to why they came: the stories of rape, of being threatened by gangs -- not only threatening their own lives, but threatening their children, threatening their parents -- they had absolutely no alternative," said Roybal-Allard during a press conference on Wednesday.

Hoyer noted the detained mothers and children, during his trip to the Karnes facility, committed no crimes and complied with U.S. laws. He said his concern continues "deeply" about the lack of basic health care and educational resources for the detained children.

Roybal-Allard stated, "When we were out in the courtyard and we were talking with them, I asked them what was one of their biggest complaints, and one of them said, 'I can't get help for my daughter.' And she showed me what she was talking about. She lifted a two- or 3-year-old little girl, and she lifted her dress, and her entire back was just covered in a terrible, terrible rash. And she said, 'They just told me that it's okay, just drink some water.'"

Hoyer said the immigrant detention is a humanitarian issue, and the international community and aids groups have to collaborate to address the issues of gang violence and extreme poverty.

Gutierrez, who referred to the detention centers as "prison camps," said the trip was "heartbreaking and very, very painful." He added that the immigrants are not in the prison camps because they've done anything wrong and most of them have spent nearly a year detained despite already meeting an immigration court judge.

"We shouldn't have over a thousand children detained in a prison camp," said Gutierrez.

Speaking about the Karnes facility, Lofgren said the center was "more locked down" than juvenile jails she has visited.

"The majority of the inmates are children -- little kids. When we walked down into the yard...a hundred women ran up to me holding their little toddlers weeping, saying 'please get us out of here,'" said Lofren, who noted the children are occurring "terrible psychological damage" from their detainment.

The trip was the latest actions by House Democrats against family detention. As Latin Post reported, 136 congressional Democrats wrote a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to end family detention. The House Democrats acknowledged that detention, even for a "brief period of time," would still have detrimental effects to mothers and children. They are also concerned with the detainment of immigrants with serious medical needs. According to the letter, detained immigrants have included a child with brain cancer, a mother with congenital heart disorder and a child who had not eaten solid foods for two months.

On Wednesday morning, Johnson announced "substantial changes" for the DHS' detention polices. Johnson said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldaña's plan is to "offer release with an appropriate monetary bond or other condition of release to families at residential centers who are successful in stating a case of credible or reasonable fear of persecution in their home countries." Saldaña also established criteria for establishing such family bond amount levels, which varies on the detainee's status as either a flight risk or towards public safety.

Johnson's reforms also extended for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), another immigration-based agency within DHS, to conduct "credible fear and reasonable fear interviews." During the interviews, ICE will further investigate on accurate address and sponsor information for the detainees and learn information about immigration court hearing attendance.


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