Armed guard, Chief G. Fuentes blocks State Senator Sylvia Garcia (left) and State Representative Ana Hernandez from entering the children’s detention facility in their district. (Photo by Allan Jamail)
Armed guard, Chief G. Fuentes blocks State Senator Sylvia Garcia (left) and State Representative Ana Hernandez from entering the children’s detention facility in their district. (Photo by Allan Jamail)

State Officials Sylvia Garcia and Ana Hernandez turned away

By Allan Jamail
Edited by NCS staff

CHANNELVIEW, TX. – North Channel – Friday, June 29, 2018 — State Senator Sylvia Garcia and State Representative Ana Hernandez went to Casa Montezuma, a child detention facility in their district, to check on migrant children being housed there. The children have either been separated from their parents who immigrated to the United States seeking political asylum from violence and persecution, or else they arrived without parents.

Armed officers in uniforms bearing the name Fort Bend County Patrol swarmed Garcia and Hernandez, stopping them and telling them they could not enter to see the children even though they both proved they were elected state officials.

Allan Jamail, a photojournalist for the North Channel Star, accompanying the state officials, had his camera grabbed by an officer whose uniform identified him as Chief G. Fuentes. Fuentes told the visiting group that the area is private property and off-limits to visitors and photo-taking.

Fuentes said, “Visitors must first make an appointment by phone to visit the facility,” but when Garcia and Hernandez told Fuentes they’ve called for days but no one will answer the phone, Fuente then said, “I know because they don’t want any visitors, so they’re not going to answer the phone.”

Not easily persuaded to leave without first checking on the welfare of the kids, for almost an hour a standoff with security in over 100 degree scorching heat, finally Fuentes agreed to allow Garcia and Hernandez to go to the front door to make an appointment for a visit on another day.

The door was locked and no one inside would come to the door or answer the intercom system, so after numerous attempts Chief Fuentes said, “You need to leave because no one is going to come talk to you or allow you inside. They don’t want visitors.”

Fuentes said he was only doing his job, but Garcia and Hernandez responded and told him he was preventing them from doing their jobs to check on the welfare of children in their District.

Senator Garcia said, “If there is one positive to come out of President Trump’s disastrous family separation policy, it’s that it has helped shine a bright light on the treatment of immigrant children in the custody of the federal government.  No longer will institutions like the Southwest Key Programs facility in Channelview operate in the shadows. While they may have blocked us from observing their operations today, we will be back again and again until we can be certain that the children in their care are being treated humanely.  They may try to shut us out, but they won’t shut us up. Our voices will be heard. We demand full transparency of this operation and others like it, and insist that any child in here that has been forcibly removed from their parents be reunited with their family immediately.”

State Representative Ana Hernandez said, “The Channelview facility’s refusal to work with lawmakers and allow us entrance is a red flag and a clear signal that the safety of the children in its care is secondary to protecting the Trump Administration and its enablers from the sunlight of scrutiny. This behavior will only strengthen our commitment to the strict regulation and closure of these operations.”

“The Trump Administration’s executive actions have done nothing to end the spread of detention centers like this facility. They have only replaced baby jails with family internment camps,” Hernandez said. “These facilities are an insult to the basic principles upon which our nation was founded. The time for words ended a long time ago. Direct action is the only answer to stop the imprisoning of entire families seeking asylum from violence.”

Representative Hernandez has worked to aggressively push back against the spread of detention centers, recently writing to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to halt the licensing of such facilities under state oversight.

President Donald Trump has begun a new immigration policy of zero tolerance for those seeking asylum. This new policy ramped-up border arrests, and has left officials unable to account for thousands of children in custody because the new policy includes taking children away from their parents.

Child psychologist are saying it is inhumane to forcibly take kids away from their parents at a young age because they cannot understand why it has happened, and most will never recover from the brain trauma they have experienced by doing this. These children need to be able to go run and play outside and not be locked up, confined as they are.

The facility located at 15101 IH 10 East Frontage Road in Channelview is a part of Southwest Key a national nonprofit organization founded in 1987. They have contracts with government agencies and private foundations to operate three types of programs throughout the country: youth justice programs, charter schools for kids in underserved neighborhoods, and shelters for immigrant youth. They operate programs in 7 states: Texas, Arizona, California, Georgia, New York, Wisconsin and Florida. Their national headquarters is located in Austin, Texas.

Allan Jamail, photojournalist for the North Channel Star, had his camera grabbed by armed guards in an attempt to prevent him from taking photos. (Photo by Allan Jamail)