SAN ANTONIO – Three immigrant mothers held at a Texas detention facility filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging that they were held in isolation in retaliation for their hunger strike to protest their detention and conditions at the center.
The three women, who are from Latin America and seeking asylum, are part of a class-action complaint filed against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and the private operator of the facility in Karnes City, southeast of San Antonio. The women say they were kept in isolation in the center's medical area.
ICE officials said Wednesday during a tour of the facility that women and children were never held in isolation within the medical area and that isolation is never used as a form of punishment there. The officials also denied that the women held a hunger strike, meaning missing nine consecutive meals.
On Wednesday, the facility housed 183 women and children, mostly from Central America who crossed U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Children could be seen dangling from a playground, receiving lessons in a classroom and eating lunch in the cafeteria.
Tens of thousands of Central American migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border last summer, most of them mothers with children and unaccompanied minors.
According to the lawsuit, in late March about 80 mothers decided to protest their detention through a hunger strike and circulated a petition to do so during Holy Week. ICE officials threatened to separate the women from their children and "accused them of being bad mothers because they were not feeding their children," the lawsuit states. Two of the women who are part of the lawsuit allege that they were placed in rooms that could be unlocked only from the outside and that they were interrogated by officials.
The lawsuit seeks a court order directing ICE and the prison operator, The GEO Group, to stop retaliatory practices and allow the women to protest peacefully.
ICE has said in a previous statement that the agency "fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference, and all detainees, including those in family residential facilities such as Karnes, are permitted to do so."