LILLIAN SALCIDO Children’s Detention INS Increases Capacity To Detain Young Refugees BY JANE JUFFER Harlingen KIDS SUCH AS Jose, a 16-year-old refugee from El Salvador, pose a problem for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Rio Grande Valley. Jose was caught by the Border Patrol March 21 outside of Harlingen, where he tried to board a train to Houston. Had he been apprehended last year, the Border Patrol probably would have released him to one of a number of churches, refugee shelters, or social agencies that take care of young refugees in the Valley. But last October the INS in the Harlingen district changed its relatively lenient policy and began detaining minors as part of a nationwide effort by the agency to establish a uniform policy on what it calls “alien minors.” That’s why as of March 28 Jose was held like a common criminal with a $3,000 bond. In a house normally used as an INS employee residence, just outside of Poit Isabel refugee detention center, Jose and seven other children are held under constant guard by INS employees. This is a temporary “solution” for the children and obviously not convenient for the INS. They can’t even find a pair of shoes to fit Jose. From behind a glass window, he showed a visitor a pair of size 11 slippers the guards had given him for his size 8 feet. He had lost his shoes while swimming the Rio Grande. The INS probably isn’t worried about the shoes because Jose although he hasn’t been informed of what will happen to him will be transferred soon to Houston or Laredo, where the INS has facilities for detaining children. Beginning in early May, the INS will increase its capacity for holding detained minors. In conjunction with another Department of Justice office, the Community Relations Service, the INS will open a permanent detention center for children, not far from the adult detention center in an isolated area outside of Los Fresnos. The Justice Department has contracted with a private non-profit group in Brownsville called International Educational Services to Jane Juffer is a freelance writer in Harlingen and an associate editor of Pacific News Service. The INS compound near Port Isabel operate the center. The center will be one of four new “alien minor shelters” the Department is opening \(the others will be in San Diego, Los number of unaccompanied Central American youths: the INS estimates it apprehended 5,500 young Central Americans in fiscal 1986; refugee advocate groups estimate that at any one time between 150 and 200 children are detained by the agency. Many are young men between 13 and 17 who have fled military conscription. The centers are apparently a move by the INS to counter criticism from refugee advocates of its practice of detaining unaccompanied minors. In a suit filed against the federal government, the Los Angeles-based National Center for Immigrants’ Rights, is challenging what it calls the “shameful” conditions in which children are held and the difficulty in gaining the children’s release into the hands of adults other than their parents. Most of the minors are attempting to join some member of their family in the U.S. Refugee advocates aren’t buying the public relations move, however. “The INS is attempting to pacify its critics by making the prison more palatable,” says Jonathan Moore, a paralegal for Proyecto Libertad, a refugee legal aid group in Harlingen. What the INS is really doing is “moving to institutionalize the detention of children.” Apparently, however, the INS and the Justice Department’s Community Relations that the centers will quiet the criticism. Their negotiations in the Valley have been shrouded in secrecy and probably with good reason. A document prepared by CRS describing the program leaves little doubt that the heavy hand of the INS will continue to be the overriding influence in the detention of children. “The whole thing has been done totally improperly,” says Father Lenny DePasquale, refugee chaplain for the diocese. “The detention of children is a new thing in the Valley. There should have been a public forum. But it’s coming from the Justice Department. They’re trying to keep people from reacting.” As Juan Sanchez, executive director of 16 APRIL 22, 1988
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