Hundreds protest immigrant detention facilities in Houston ahead of ICE raids

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- On the heels of a nationwide round-up of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, an event dubbed Light for Liberty organized hundreds of protests around the country to fight against current conditions inside detention centers.

"Free the children, let them go! Free the children, let them go!" chanted demonstrators outside of a children's detention facility Friday night in downtown Houston.

Hundreds of people crowded outside the Southwest Key detention center at the corner of Prairie and Emancipation.

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The privately run operation houses children who were separated from their families at the border.

They've had a license to operate since March and can house up to 200 children.

Southwest Key, which has several facilities across the Houston area, sent us this statement saying:

"We believe all children - regardless of color, nationality, background, ability or circumstances - have intrinsic value and dignity. Every child deserves an opportunity to escape poverty and violence and create a brighter future for themselves. That's what our people are doing every day in Houston shelters and we are fiercely proud of our work.

Our shelters look and feel like a dormitory setting. There are two to four twin size beds in each room and common areas to eat, play, read or relax. We provide classroom education, recreation and opportunities for arts and crafts, music and entertainment and field trips. Children have access to legal counsel, religious services and counseling services.

Across our shelters in Houston, youth stay with us for an average of about six weeks. The vast majority of those in our care are 13-17 year olds from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who've come to the United States to escape dangerous conditions in their homeland. During the short period of time they are with us, we share the building blocks for future success."

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But protest organizers say there is concern for basic quality of life within the Emancipation Street facility.

"This center in particular does not come with a full-time doctor. They also don't have a kitchen," said Cesar Espinosa with FIEL Houston, an immigrants' rights organization.

Espinosa says sick or injured teens are taken to the hospital and meals are delivered. He is also worried about the operations transparency saying, "These centers exist but nobody's really allowed to go in and inspect to see what's really going on behind closed doors."

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"I just don't think Jesus said, 'Love thy neighbor, unless they don't have the right documents,'" said protester Sheila Blake.

The crowd is here to send a message, they want to end family separation, and to end children detention centers.

"We know that conditions might be better here than conditions in the makeshift centers that they have put along the border, but at the end of the day, we're still talking about the fundamental issue, which is detaining and separating children from their parents," Espinosa said.

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