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October 2017

Willacy County Sells Prison to Management & Training Corporation in “Prisonville”

The Valley Morning Star reported the details of Willacy County’s sale of the former Willacy County Correctional Center to Management & Training Corporation (MTC) in Raymondville. According to details released on October 9, the sale for $2.025 million released the county of its $68 million debt to the prison’s bond holders. The 53-acre facility was originally developed by MTC as a detention center in 2006. The county bought the prison in 2011 to turn it to a minimum-security prison. The facility closed in 2015 following a riot and fire.

Management & Training Corporation is soliciting a new contract for the facility. Known previously as Tent City for its windowless pods, “MTC removed 10 Kevlar-covered domes damaged in the February 2015 riot that led to the 3,000-bed prison’s closure.”

Raymondville has been known as “Prisonville” for its three prison and detention facilities, now all privately owned. The town suffered tremendous financial impacts following the closure of the prison. “The closure of the prison, which paid the county for every inmate it held, led to 400 employee layoffs, slashing a third of the county’s $8.1 million general fund budget and plunging the area into financial crisis,” the Valley Morning Star reported.

Check out our previous coverage of MTC's scandals in Raymondville:

Diabetic Woman in Hutto Reveals Abuse of Asylum Seekers in Detention

An article by The Outline highlights the story of Brenda Menjivar Guarado, an asylum seeker from El Salvador who came to the United States seeking refuge from violence in her home. Menjivar Guerado’s story gained attention from the media in July when she suffered medical neglect within detention, and was forced to choose deportation.

Note from Menjivar Guarado

Menjivar Guarado was detained in T. Don Hutto Detention Facility in Taylor, Texas, operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America or CCA). “Upon arrival, guards took away her insulin and began giving her different, less effective treatment for her Type 1 diabetes,” the Outline reports. The lack of proper medical treatment became so dangerous that she was forced to choose deportation over continuing to pursue her asylum case in detention.

Menjivar Guarado’s story reveals the difficulty of fighting one’s asylum case from behind bars. Facilities like Hutto are purposefully isolated from community and legal services, thus the vast majority of women lack legal representation for the asylum process. According to a study by Syracuse University in 2016, of “those who didn’t have a lawyer, only 10 percent got asylum.”

In October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated a priority to close a so-called “loophole” in the asylum process and make it more difficult for judges to grant asylum. Further, according to the Outline, the government argued in Jennings v. Rodriguez that asylum seekers do not have constitutional rights in detention. “It's unclear whether Menjivar Guarado would have eventually been granted asylum, but it appears that the federal government isn't interested in finding out,” the article states.

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ICE Detained Pregnant Survivor of Sexual Violence in Joe Corley Detention Facility

 According to an article in the Texas Observer, the alarming trend of ICE detaining pregnant women claimed national attention when seven human rights organizations filed a complaint for the practice in September (see “Pregnant Women Seeking Asylum Detained, Women Miscarried in ICE Facilities").

The report details the stories of ten women, including Carolina Ramirez, a woman who migrated from El Salvador to Texas at age 23. The journey lasted two months, involving sexual assault by the man who brought her to the United States. She arrived carrying his child and was sent to detention at Joe Corley Detention Facility, a private facility operated by GEO Group. There, she experienced isolation from her family in Missouri and began to suffer from major depressive disorder.

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Ramirez petitioned to be released from detention on bond. Instead, she was held in detention for six months. “Advocates say Ramirez’s story is part of a troubling trend of prolonged detention of pregnant women in ICE custody,” Gus Bova writes in the Texas Observer.

An ICE spokesperson said 525 pregnant women have been detained since October of last year, with 33 in detention as of September 13. The Observer estimates that Ramirez’s detention cost U.S. taxpayers about $22,000 in the private facility.

The GEO Group has a long-standing record of human rights abuses within jails, prisons, and detention centers in Texas. The article cites incidents of rape allegations within the Joe Corley Detention Facility from 2015, and the detainee-organized resistance in 2014 when “more than 180 detainees took part in a hunger strike at the facility over poor food and telephone access.”

The Women’s Refugee Commission recently investigated Joe Corley Detention Facility alongside detention facilities across the country. The Texas Observer references their report released in October to show inadequate care for people detained. “In the worst case documented, Joe Corley had one full-time physician and one full-time nurse practitioner for over 1,500 people at the time of our visit,” the report cited.

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Supreme Court Rules Against GEO Group and CoreCivic Secrecy

Shadowproof reported on October 11 that the Supreme Court ruled to require transparency and accountability of private prison companies GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America or CCA). The two companies filed a petition to prevent the public release of government documents about their immigration detention facilities. The companies sought to prevent the government from releasing information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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In July 2016, a federal district court ruled that the government must release its contracts with private prison corporations. The two largest corporations, GEO Group and CoreCivic, filed an appeal with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that dismissed their petition. When GEO petitioned the Supreme Court for a full review of the case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of transparency.

This ruling comes during a time of expanding detention facilities in Texas and nationwide, while advocates call for greater oversight and accountability of privately-run detention facilities. “This victory is especially important as we face a presidential administration committed to mass privatization, as well as mass detention and deportation,” said Mary Small, policy director of Detention Watch Network.

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1,000-Bed Private Detention Facility Proposed for South Texas

On October 13, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is soliciting proposals for a new privately run detention center to operate in South Texas, the eighth of its kind along Interstate-35. The proposal calls for a location between San Antonio and Laredo to house 1,000 adult male and female detainees.

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“This would be yet another for-profit detention center in South Texas along the I-35 corridor, which has become detention alley,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership.

The American-Statesman reported that the Trump Administration has promised expansion of the detention system, supporting the profit margins of GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America or CCA). The expansion of detention forecasts a continued focus on interior enforcement and arrests, given that border crossings have declined since President Trump’s election. ICE has been criticized for actions of interior enforcement such as the raids in Austin in February “because more than half of the 53 immigrants arrested had no criminal history,” reported the American-Statesman.

“What Trump promised was the very high deportation numbers, and the way you get that is through the detention and deportation of asylum seekers” at the border, Libal said, “but if that number remains constant or goes down, you have to find new populations to deport” likely through ICE raids.

County Judge Joel Rodriguez said La Salle County would not participate in housing a detention facility due to the risks involved. The La Salle County sheriff’s office now operates a detention center in Encinal, Texas, after the private company Emerald Corrections abandoned the facility to the county in 2014.

As immigration cases pile up in a backlog of trials, deportations have slowed and detention centers remain in demand. “The combination of more arrests and fewer deportations could mean an increase in the populations of detention centers,” the article reported.

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GEO Group Meets at Trump’s Resort, Lobbying Appears to Pay Off With New Immigration Detention Contract

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On October 25, the Washington Post reported that private prison corporation GEO Group had moved its annual retreat to the 800-acre Trump National Doral golf resort. The company’s decision to host its retreat on a Trump property followed a year of increased lobbying and donations to the Trump campaign.

According to the Post, GEO Group’s spent $3 million last year in political lobbying and donations. “During last year’s election, a company subsidiary gave $225,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC. GEO gave an additional $250,000 to the president’s inaugural committee,” the article said. The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint earlier this year on the questionable legality of GEO Group donating to political campaigns as a government contractor.

The increase in lobbying and donation efforts has paid off for GEO Group: “In April, [GEO] won the Trump administration’s first immigration-detention contract, a 10-year deal first proposed during President Barack Obama’s term to build and run a 1,000-bed facility in Conroe, Tex.”

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement-contracted facility in Conroe will detain 1,000 more individuals in the same town as Joe Corley Detention Center with a well-documented history of rights abuses, including the recent story on pregnant survivors of sexual assault denied proper medical care. The new Conroe facility is expected to generate $44 million in profit for GEO Group annually.

While the Obama administration announced it would end contracts between the Federal Bureau of Prisons and private prison corporations, GEO Group faced losing its contracts with facilities like Big Spring complex in Texas. The Trump administration reversed this decision, leading to the renewal of the Big Spring contract “where GEO has said it expects about $664 million in combined revenue over a 10-year term.” The lobbying efforts of GEO Group have attracted criticism from press and watchdogs, such as Texans for Public Justice.

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Pregnant Women Seeking Asylum Detained, Women Miscarried in ICE Facilities

An article by The Nation (October 12, 2017) investigates the stories of asylum seekers detained while pregnant by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Nation reports that women have been denied medical care, leading to health complications including miscarriages.

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In September, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Women’s Refugee Commission filed a complaint that ICE has detained pregnant women against its own policy. In August 2016, the acting director of the agency Thomas Homan issued a memorandum stating that “pregnant women will generally not be detained” except under “extraordinary circumstances or the requirement of mandatory detention.” Despite this policy, the complaint filed by the ACLU and Women’s Refugee Commission cites 292 pregnant women were detained in the first four months of 2017, a notable 35 percent increase from the same period last year.

The article details the case of Jennye Pagoada López, who states she was denied medical care during detention and suffered a miscarriage after six days. The Department of Homeland Security has yet to respond to the complaint filed on behalf Pagoada and nine other women, six of whom were detained in privately run detention facilities in Texas.

The filed complaint includes the testimonies of five women who were detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center (STFRC) in Dilley, Texas, a family detention center operated by CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America or CCA), and one woman detained at Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, Texas operated by GEO Group.

Ana, a 28-year-old woman from Honduras, wrote when she was in STFRC:

It is very difficult for me to be detained here with my son while I am pregnant. It is hard for me to get around because I am not feeling well and my son is too heavy for me to carry. I feel that I need to be living where my family can assist me. I am very concerned about the health of my baby because there are a lot of people here and many viruses, including the flu and diarrhea. Being detained and preparing for a credible fear [interview] has also been very stressful for me, which I feel is dangerous for my baby. In order to prepare for my credible fear interview with a CARA [the pro bono legal service organization at STRFC] legal assistant, I have had to discuss my history of sexual abuse and domestic violence in detail.

Katy Murdza of the CARA Pro Bono Project has worked at the Dilley family detention center for four months. According to her interview with The Nation, until recently most pregnant women were released from the border to live with family or friends before appearing before an immigration judge at a later date. The article details numerous stresses that pregnant women in detention face, as women are “fleeing torture, abuse, or rape (and in some cases learn in detention that their rape resulted in pregnancy); some are trying to care for their children who are also struggling with detention and recent trauma; some have miscarried in the past because of stress or depression, and now fear a repeat due to their current circumstances; and there is little rest, since detainees are sharing rooms with so many people, many of whom are sick.”

The Nation reports that according to an ICE spokesperson, the August 2016 memorandum remains current policy, meaning that pregnant women will not be detained barring “extraordinary circumstances.” Given changes in enforcement priorities under the Trump Administration, however, advocates see that pregnant women remain unprotected according to current practice.

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