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ICE director says changes are coming to Karnes family detention facility

The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mid-September 2014.
The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mid-September 2014.
The head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told members of Congress on Thursday that the immigrant family detention center in Karnes County, Texas will be converted to an all-male facility, adding “possibly with children.”

The Guardian reported the exchange between Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-California and ICE Director Sarah Saldaña:

During a House appropriations committee hearing Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard asked the ICE director, Sarah Saldaña: “is it possible that ICE will stop using Karnes and Dilley [another facility] for families in [fiscal year 2017]?” “Well, we’re pretty much there on the decision on Karnes,” Saldaña responded. “We are probably going to convert that into – our plans are to convert that into – an adult male, perhaps with children, facility. Not a family facility as it is now, with largely women.”

The news was a surprise to advocates who have been monitoring the family detention centers closely. Mohammad Abdollahi of RAICES told the Texas Observer that the statement was the first anyone had heard about a change at Karnes. The Observer reports, “He said immigrant rights groups in Texas and D.C. meet with ICE officials regularly to discuss problems surrounding family detention, but no one made any mention of the plan. ‘For us, it’s kind of like we have to see it before we believe it,’ Abdollahi told the Observer. ‘We don’t really have much faith in it at the moment because … it was never brought to us.’”

This development comes as a lengthy fight over state-issued child care licenses continues for the Karnes detention center and a similar one in Dilley.

The detention center in Karnes County was an all-male immigrant detention facility until August 1, 2014, when ICE officials converted it to a family detention center in line with a policy that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Jeh Johnson described at the time as sending a message to Central American women and children: "we will send you back."

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