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NASW member reveals abuse of immigrants at Texas facility

Social worker and whistleblower Olivia Lopez. Photo courtesy of McClatchyDC.

Social worker and whistleblower Olivia Lopez. Photo courtesy of McClatchyDC.

National Association of Social Workers member Olivia Lopez, DSW, who worked at the Karnes County Residential Center in Texas, has gone to the media and Congress with reports that immigrant mothers and their children are being imprisoned and treated inhumanely at the facility.

According to this McClatchyDC article the facility functions more as a prison than a group home. Guards isolate mothers and children in medical units, nurses falsify medical reports, staff members are told to lie to federal officials about sometimes appalling conditions, and psychologists act as informants for federal agents, Lopez told the news service.

“They know where they’re at. They know they’re in a prison. They know they can’t leave,” Lopez said.

She cited the case of a five-year-old child who was sexually abused during the trek to the United States. Lopez reported the abuse but a psychologist discharged the child, saying she was doing well and gaining weight.

In fact the child was losing weight and had reverted to wearing diapers, Lopez said.

Andrea Campetella, director of communications and planning at the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, said Lopez graduated from the program. School Dean Luis Zayas  has been active on this issue and wants the facility closed, Campetella said in an email sent to NASW.

Lopez quit her job at the facility in April. She is scheduled to meet with House Democrats on July 28 to talk about her experiences.

“What is happening there is tantamount to torture,” she said.

The United States recently experienced a surge in child immigrants from Central America who are fleeing violence, crime, poverty and sexual and drug trafficking in their home nations. Social workers are often at the front lines providing assistance to this population. To learn more visit the National Association of Social Workers 1,000 Experts Campaign Child Immigrant Crisis media toolkit.

 

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