A Glimpse of Family Detention at Karnes

As we spoke with Ana, her daughter doodled on this piece of paper. Later, Ana added some symbols representing the distance between her family members. Credit: Jessica Carey-Webb and Ana

Ana wrote this letter describing her experience in detention: “I feel sad here because they rejected my claim [for asylum] and they didn’t believe that I was threatened in my country and here in this center I feel sad because my little girl is suffering here in this center and I am too because there are so many locked up.” Credit: Jessica Carey-Webb and Ana

Written by - Jessica Carey-Webb

With a capacity of 608 beds stretched across 29 acres, Karnes County Residential Center is impressively large and beige with a small blue entrance and a single pot of flowers in front of the sliding front doors. Despite housing women and children, the inside of Karnes feels sterile with fluorescent lighting, linoleum tiling, and concrete walls. Sounds echo loudly and an overhead loudspeaker calls out names for detainees to report to various places.

In our visit to Karnes we were able to talk to Ana, a Guatemalan woman who had been in detention for 28 days. Ana broke down sobbing as she couldn’t stand to be in detention any longer. A judge had recently denied her case for asylum and she couldn’t understand why the United States didn’t want her. As tears streamed down her face, she recounted how she and her three-year-old daughter were persecuted in Guatemala for being K’iche,’ an indigenous group (the exact circumstances were unclear).

Ana and her daughter had not eaten well since they left Guatemala and the food in the detention center was particularly bad. She repeatedly mentioned headaches, stomachaches, and her overwhelming sense of desperation, stress, and guilt was apparent. She feared that in returning to Guatemala her and her daughter would be killed but she couldn’t think of any other options. While Ana talked, her daughter ran about the room, growing increasingly restless and doodling with the pens and paper we had provided.