New York Woman, son make trek to Casa Presidente

BROWNSVILLE – Ashley Casale and her 7-year-old son, Gabriel, drove nearly 2,000 miles after the school year ended last Friday in New York to the Rio Grande Valley to see for herself the impact of President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy and how family separations are playing out on the border.

She said she’s been camped out in front of Casa Presidente, a facility operated by the nonprofit Southwest Key Programs, that houses children who are younger than 10 years old since Tuesday.

After a tour of Casa Presidente and Casa Padre on June 18, Rep. Filemon Vela told reporters that Casa Presidente at that time housed 80 boys and girls, about half of whom had been separated from their parents or parent.

“It’s not just bad for the child, but for the parents, too,” Casale said, as Gabriel ran too far toward Casa Presidente’s property and a security guard interrupted the interview to remind Casale of the line her son couldn’t cross.

Casale, who stood outside an orange tent just off Casa Presidente’s property while her son — who donned a red St. Louis Cardinals cap — threw a baseball in the air and caught it as it came down, said she hoped the nonprofit agency would allow her to tour the facility.

“It’s outrageous,” Casale said of family separations and what she sees as a troubled reunification process. “And I wanted to see for myself, but it’s been tough. I felt the citizen presence was important.”

However, Casale noticed something different Friday afternoon. She noticed a heavy police presence, and said Southwest Key Programs security and Brownsville police turned away some vehicles looking to enter the facility and directed people who may have been employees where to park.

That might be because it’s believed that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was in Cameron County on Friday afternoon to visit Casa Presidente and the Port Isabel Detention Center.

Nielsen’s staff did not respond to multiple requests made by The Brownsville Herald to either confirm or deny the visit.

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