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August 2017

ICE wants permission to destroy records of immigrant abuse

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wants approval for its timetable on retaining or destroying records related to detention operations, reports the ACLU.

 

ICE reached out to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which decides how federal agencies maintain their records. ICE wishes to change their policy on destroying 11 types of records including sexual assaults, solitary confinement, and deaths of individuals in custody. ICE proposed destroying records of sexual assault and death records after 20 years, and proposed destroying records of solitary confinement after three years.

 

NARA has given provisional approval to ICE for their policy changes. NARA gave various reasons for the approval, stating that sexual assaults and deaths in custody "do not document significant actions of Federal officials." This is obviously incorrect, seeing as there have been multiple cases of sexual assaults in public and private facilities that contract with ICE. The agency also stated that information related to sexual assaults is "highly sensitive and does not warrant retention."

 

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As Hurricane Harvey approaches, ICE abandons over 50 women & children at a bus station

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) abandoned about 50 immigrant women and children at a bus station in San Antonio, reports the Rivard Report.

 

The 50 women and children were all Central Americans who had come to the U.S. seeking asylum. Once they arrived to the U.S. border, they were taken to family detention centers while their asylum cases were processed. These private detention centers are run by for-profit corporations, who contract with ICE to operate the facilities. ICE ordered the women taken to the bus station in San Antonio on Friday as Hurricane Harvey made its approach to the Texas coast. Due to the weather advisory caused by Hurricane Harvey, all buses from the station were cancelled, leaving the women and children abandoned in worsening conditions.

 

The Interfaith Welcome Coalition of San Antonio contacted various non-profits in the area, who helped find a church that welcomed in the women and children. Congressman Lloyd Doggett also spoke with ICE, saying "This is all really unacceptable. We need greatly improved communication and more attention to genuine humanitarian concerns."

 

This was not the only mishap by immigration officials in Texas as they responded to Hurricane Harvey. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) announced before the hurricane that they would be leaving their checkpoints north of the border open, leading to an increase of fear for individuals fleeing from Hurricane Harvey.

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Private prison companies continue to expand under Trump

The private prison business is booming under President Trump, reports the Houston Chronicle.

 

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to crack down on undocumented immigrants in the U.S. In the first three months of Trump's presidency, over 113,000 immigrants were locked up across the country in 180 different facilities. The Houston Chronicle says this is a 10 percent increase from the same time period in 2016. These increases mean big business for CoreCivic and GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies in the U.S.

 

The increase in business revenue comes from the number of individuals detained, and also from the length of time they are detained. In most cases, private prison companies are paid on a per diem rate per prisoner, meaning the longer they are detained the more money private prisons companies make.

 

Settlement reached with ICE over medical evaluations

A settlement has been reached between immigration officials and pro bono attorneys regarding medical evaluations at the Dilley family detention center, Texas, reports the San Antonio Express.

 

The lawsuit, filed in June, was from the Dilley Pro Bono Project, which works to provide legal services to women and children detained in Dilley, Texas. The lawsuit stated that a legal assistant was barred from visiting detainees at the detention center. ICE barred the legal assistant after they set up a telephonic medical evaluation for one of their clients. ICE policy states that medical evaluations must be approved at least 24 hours before the evaluation.

 

The settlement requires ICE to more quickly make decisions in regards to allowing medical evaluations, and limits when ICE can deny medical providers access to the detention center in Dilley, as well as the other family detention center in Karnes County, Texas.

 

This is not the first time ICE has limited attorney access to women and children detained in Dilley. Attorneys were denied access in 2015 after they lodged a series of complaints over due process violations. It is also vital that medical providers are given full access to the centers, since ICE has denied care to a young girl with cancer locked up at a family detention center in the past.  

Private prison guard caught sleeping on the job

Willacy County Regional Detention Facility
A private prison guard was photographed sleeping while guarding an inmate in a Texas hospital, reports KRGV 5 news.

 

The unnamed guard worked at the Willacy County State Jail, which is operated by the private prison company CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America). The guard was watching over a prisoner on August 1 at the Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen, Texas. CoreCivic launched an investigation into the incident following the picture, and had this to say:

 

"We can confirm that the photograph is of a CoreCivic/Willacy County State Jail correctional officer and this is certainly a behavior we do not condone. Due to the serious nature of his behavior and numerous policy violations, the employee has been terminated from his position with the company effective immediately.”

 

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Dozens are transferred to a private prison referred to as "Hell"

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is transferring dozens of women to a private prison in Texas, reports Buzzfeed News.

 

A spokesperson with DHS confirmed that the department had begun transferring women from a facility operated by CoreCivic in New Mexico. That facility is closing due to a consistently low number of prisoners. The women will be transferred to the West Texas Detention Facility, located in Sierra Blanca, Texas. Human rights activists said that the transfers began without DHS notifying the attorneys who represent the women being transferred.

 

The prison has been operated by numerous private companies since 2015, including Emerald Correctional Management and LaSalle Corrections. Last year the U.S. Marshals began to monitor conditions at the prison following prisoners’ complaints of inhumane treatment.  

 

In May, Martín Méndez Pineda, a Mexican journalist, was detained in the Sierra Blanca facility after seeking asylum in the U.S. Pineda decided to "self-deport" instead of staying at the facility. Pineda wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he made numerous complaints against the facility, and aptly described it as “Hell.”

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Thousands of sweltering prisoners to be moved to air-conditioned units

In Houston, a federal judge approved moving more than one thousand prisoners to various private prisons that have air conditioning, reports the Texas Tribune.

 

The judge signed off on Texas' court-ordered proposal to move medically sensitive prisoners from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's (TDCJ) Pack Unit, which has no air conditioner. The proposal was ordered in July following a judge’s ruling that air conditioning must be provided for vulnerable inmates. The judge also stated that TDCJ was "deliberately indifferent" to the risk of harm prisoners face at the scorching prison.

 

In Texas, almost 75 percent of prisons and state jails do not have air conditioning in prisoners’ living areas. Some prisons, including the Pack Unit, regularly reach above 100 degrees. Prisoners filed a class-action lawsuit against TDCJ that points to at least 23 heat-related deaths since 1998. The prisoners argue that housing should be kept at 88 degrees maximum.

 

The majority of these prisoners will be moved to the Diboll Unit, which is operated by Management and Training Corporation, a Utah-based private prison company. Others will be transferred to the Travis County State Jail. Two hundred other prisoners will be transferred to nine different units across Texas. Unfortunately, the transfer of prisoners means that some prisoners will be transferred from facilities with air conditioning to those without it, such as the Pack Unit.

 

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For-profit transitional home won't pay their bills

A for-profit transitional home in Dallas County has not paid the county for emergency medical help since last October, reports Fox 4 News.

 

The Avalon Dallas Transitional Home, which houses individuals recently released from prison with no place to live, has made excessive 911 calls for medical aid. However, the for-profit company that operates the facility, CoreCivic (formerly called Corrections Corporation of America), has yet to pay Dallas County for the aid.

 

John Wiley Price, a commissioner in Dallas County, is angry that the private prison company has not paid its bills to county, despite getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state. Fox News 4 obtained documents showing that between October 2016 and July 2017, 243 emergency calls were made from the Avalon Dallas Transitional Home. Each time a Dallas County ambulance responded to one of these calls, it cost $450. The total cost of the calls in that period amount to $222,900. The county has yet to see a penny of that.

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Are detention facilities residences? Texas judge says no, demands GEO pay up on extra taxes.

A lawsuit by a private prison company seeking a refund of sales tax has been denied, according to documents from the Third District of the Texas Court of Appeals.

 

The GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S., filed a lawsuit against Glenn Hegar, Comptroller of Public Accounts for the State of Texas, and Ken Paxton, the state Attorney General. The lawsuit was seeking a refund of sales tax on gas and electricity used in GEO's detention facilities. GEO Group said it was entitled to the sales tax exemption for residential use under a specific section of the State Tax Code.

 

Following an audit, the Comptroller found that GEO needed to pay additional sales and use tax for the period of May 1, 2001, to April 30, 2005, due to a disagreement on the GEO facilities being residential and therefore tax exempt. GEO paid the extra funds under protest. They then filed the suit against the Comptroller after he denied their request to refund the amounts paid. GEO sought $1,367,377.14 plus interest as their refund.

 

Harris County ends use of private prisons

Harris County has brought all of its outsourced prisoners back to Harris County, reports Houston Public Media.

 

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who was elected in January, brought prisoners back from private prisons to Harris County within three months of his election. Though private prisons are notorious for the mistreatment of their prisoners, Sheriff Gonzalez said he moved them back for budgetary reasons.

 

According to the Harris County Sheriff’s department, the department spent around $4.5 million sending prisoners to private prisons outside of Harris County. This fiscal year the county is expected to spend under $300,000.

 

When discussing the budget, Sheriff Gonzalez said, "I simply think we incarcerate way too many folks; and there is a cost associated with that. Whether it be the cost of daily housing or sometimes outsourcing inmates. So I think that we need to change those practices… And that’s why I’m a big advocate for reform, and really addressing our mass incarceration complex that we have in this country."

 

He also said that there were other benefits to bringing the prisoners back to Harris County. The facility can have more control over things such as medical records. It is also beneficial because loved ones can visit without having to travel to other cities or counties.