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After Suicide Attempts, Advocates Draft Petition to End Immigrant Detention

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT
A view of the Karnes County Detention Center shortly after its opening in July 2014.

There's a new petition making the rounds through Texas and the United States.

Its goal is to end the incarceration of immigrant mothers and children. A catalyst for the petition was a recent wave of suicide attempts by some of the women in detention in facilities in Texas.

Berenice tried to kill herself Thursday of last week.

"Berenice" is not her real name. But her attorney is trying to protect her identity, because she's an asylum seeker.

For the last three months, Berenice and her toddler have been detained in Dilley, Tex., the largest immigrant detention center in the country.

Speaking in Spanish, she says, "There's a little boy [in Dilley] that begs his mom to kill him and kill herself. He says, 'Let's kill ourselves. I can't stand this place any longer.'"

Berenice says that mother's, and her son's, despair is because they haven't been able to make their $15,000 bond.

Berenice had not considered killing herself before. But this week she learned her bond was set at $9,000.

"I was shocked!" says Berenice, "I thought there was no way out. I lost my head." 

Berenice knew her cousins in New York haven't been able to scrape together enough for her airplane ticket, much less $9,000. That's why she tried to end her life.

Soon after, Berenice was rushed to the hospital and then released to her attorney. Her bond was waived.

Human rights attorney Rachel Gore Freed with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee hopes to stop the incarceration of women like Berenice and also the detention of immigrant children. Gore Freed says that if the UN weighed into these incarcerations, it would classify these mothers as "refugees."

That's why Gore Freed started the petition. She plans to deliver it to the Obama Administration on Mother's Day.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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