The Department of Homeland Security is going to change the Karnes family detention center from a mother and child lockup to one for fathers and their children, according to an NBC News report.
"Multiple government sources confirmed that the Department of Homeland Security intends to transition immigrant women and children out of the Karnes County Family Residential Center in Texas. The facility would instead detain male heads of household and their young children."
The first indication of this change came when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldaña told a congressional committee of the plans last month.
The change comes at a time when the Obama Administration’s policy of family detention is in flux. The same NBC News report also noted that the numbers of women and children detained in both Texas family detention centers are low, despite the facilities being built to hold thousands.
Meanwhile, the fight over state-issued child care licenses for family detention continues, with immigrant and child advocates calling for anyone opposed to granting child care licenses to speak up at a public hearing at the Karnes County Correctional Center (KCCC), a separate facility from the family detention lockup that is also operated located in Karnes City and operated by the GEO Group.
Last month the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), approved a proposed rule that would allow the licensing of family detention centers as a child care facilities to move forward. But the outcry against the decision has only increased.
The move is widely understood to allow the facilities remain open after Judge Dolly Gee’s 2015 ruling said the federal government could not hold children in secure, unlicensed facilities. Immigration and child welfare advocates oppose the licensing of the facilities and say the state is lowering child care standards.
The Austin Chronicle reported on some of the reactions to the news:
“Child-care facilities exist to take care of children," wrote Virginia Raymond, an Austin-based immigration attorney who vocally opposes the move. The state of Texas, which requires most child-care centers to be licensed, also mandates through DFPS the specific minimal standards those centers must meet. Because family detention centers cannot meet those standards, these critical requirements are waived for the sole purpose of licensing these centers, so they can legally remain open.”
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission which houses the Department of Family and Protective Services responded with “ the licensure would protect the health and safety of children, as they found "an imminent peril to the public's health, safety, or welfare." However, the decision to license family detention centers is in fact the state's preferred approach to comply with a court order of last summer.” “The adopted rule (Rule 40) to license family detention centers, which became effective March 1, exempts the two facilities in Dilley and Karnes City from three of the minimum residential standards: 1) the limitation of four occupants to a room; 2) the limitation on a child sharing a bedroom with an adult; and 3) the limitations on children of different genders sharing rooms.”
Cristina Parker of Grassroots Leadership argues that “"Licensing family detention centers will not improve the conditions for children and women; DFPS is not seeking to make detention centers into child-care facilities,”. She and other advocates argue that these facilities will not any safer but that standards have been lowered for the facilities to remain open citing the facilities conditions as proof that they are not suitable for housing children.
“Six days a week, I walk into this facility [Dilley] and I meet with over 150 mothers who with them are their children who all are sick. They are crying. They have fevers. ... They are bloated. They have diarrhea. ... That is what we see every single day. And it is a sign of both the inadequacy of the child care that is provided and also the inhuman standards in which these children are put," testified Ian Philabaum, the underground project coordinator for the CARA pro bono project at Dilley.
The Karnes and Dilley detention centers will now have to apply for their licenses in the counties where they are located, Karnes and Frio Counties, respectively. We'll post updates when those hearing dates are announced.
On March 4, the family of Nestor Garay filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that private prison operator GEO Group negligently left Garay in the care of unqualified medical staff who failed to respond properly when Garay suffered a stroke while incarcerated at the Big Springs Correctional Center in June 2014. It took two days after Garay was found moaning and unresponsive in his bed, covered in sweat and urine, for GEO Group to send him to the emergency room in Midland, 40 miles away from the facility, where he eventually died handcuffed to the hospital bed.
GEO Group subcontracts medical care at the facility to Correct Care Solutions (CCS), who had only a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) on hand the night that Garay suffered his stroke. LVN licenses require only one year of training, so they typically serve as support staff for more highly trained doctors and nurses. That night, the LVN contacted the on-call Physicians Assistant who gave Garay anti-stroke medicine and sent him back to bed rather that ordering him to the emergency room. By morning, Garay’s face was drooping and right arm was contracted and he was ordered to the ER. It took another hour to actually leave the facility.
Doctors who treated Garay say that the window of treatment for the type of stroke he suffered is about 3 hours, so there was little to be done once he arrived at the hospital more than six hours after the initial stroke.
Big Springs is a Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prison, one of 11 facilities around the country incarcerating exclusively noncitizens convicted of federal crimes. The prisons operate under less strenuous standards than other Bureau of Prisons facilities. They have also come under fire from civil rights groups for their lack of adequate medical care, food, and other inhumane conditions and have been the sites of recent prisoner uprisings.
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."