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Abuse Allegations Could Cost Cornell Youth Detention Contract

Houston-based Cornell Companies appears to be losing its contract to detain immigrant youth at its Hector Garza center according to an excellent article by Hernan Rozemberg in Sunday's San Antonio Express-News ("Youth Center Director Cites Suit in Feds' Decision," June 15). The facility holds unaccompanied minors apprehended in the United States for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of Health and Human Services.

The center has seen its supply of detainees shrink since a lawsuit was filed against the company, its warden, and employees alleging neglect and abuse. According to the Express-News story:

Unlike other HHS-contracted “shelters” or dormitory-style campuses, the Hector Garza center is designated “staff secure” because it's a more restrictive setting meant to handle problematic youngsters.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Antonio in April, came as a result of a brawl between center residents and staff in February. Staffers called police to help quell the mayhem, which concluded with four minors under arrest.

According to the suit, filed by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, excessive violence used by staff and police symbolized incessant abuse that minors reported to supervisors to no avail. State and federal officials are accused of covering up abuse reports.

Incredibly, the warden of the facility seems to be blaming the lawyers in the case for the allegations of abuse:

Fernández said overzealous lawyers preyed on minors' survival instincts, prompting them to sue the center. Staff and residents had cordial and even amiable relations before lawyers began showing up, he lamented.

We'll keep you updated on developments from Garza and other Cornell units around Texas. Our previous coverage on the subject: Eight Unaccompanied Minors Sue Cornell Over Physical Abuse.

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