On Monday June 22 and Tuesday June 23, eight Democratic House members will visit two Texas family detention centers, the GEO-operated Karnes County Residential Center outside of San Antonio, and CCA-operated South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. The House members announced their trip and expressed concern over the Obama Administration's family detention policy in a press conference held last Thursday.
"It is not illegal to apply for asylum. It is the law of the land," said Rep. Gutierrez.
"Detaining children puts them at risk of mental and developmental problems," said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. "The people in these detention centers are...the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free of which Emma Lazarus spoke and which is emblazoned on our Statue of Liberty."
The members who will be touring the detention centers are: Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-05), Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), Rep. Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40). They are among the 136 House Democrats who signed a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson calling for an end to family detention.
Negotiations between immigrant rights and government attorneys have been extended for another week in what been known as "the Flores case" after parties were unable to reach an agreement based on Judge Dolly Gee's preliminary decision.
As previously reported, some advocates believe that this litigation could cause dramatic changes to, or even end, the government's current policy of detaining asylum-seeking mothers and children while their cases proceed through immigration courts.
The outcome of these negotiations could determine the future of three family detention facilities, which together have the capacity to detain more than 3,000 individuals. These include two for-profit facilities in Texas: the Karnes County Residential Center run by the GEO Group, and the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley run by Corrections Corporation of America.
The new deadline set for reporting on the Flores Settlement negotiations is July 3.
A recent Detention Watch Network report uncovered local quotas at immigrant detention facilities in South Texas, according to The Associated Press. These local quotas are found in contracts with local governments and the private corporations that manage facilities for ICE.
In total, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is contractually obligated to pay for the detention of 3,255 immigrants daily at five facilities in Texas. Three of these are for-profit facilities operated by either Corrections Corporation of America or the GEO Group. These facilities are the Houston Processing Center, South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, and Karnes County Correctional Center. The highest guaranteed minimum at one of these for-profit facilities is 750 at Houston Processing Center, with South Texas Detention Complex falling close behind at 725. It is unclear whether the Karnes detention center, which has been converted into a family detention facility, is still operating under a 450-bed quota for its current population.
ICE officials say that these local minimums are a way to ensure that they meet the national quota mandating that 34,000 beds be available to detain immigrants each day. In all of the Texas facilities, the local quotas have been exceeded.
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General, the Reeves County Detention Complex, also known as the world’s largest for-profit prison, has “minimal oversight, overcharged the federal government by $2.1 million, arbitrarily punishes protesting inmates and suffers from severe understaffing.”
Reeves County Detention Complex is run by private prison corporation, the GEO Group, and holds almost 4,000 mostly undocumented federal prisoners who are serving time for federal drug and immigration-related offenses.
The report found that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had asked GEO Group to eliminate minimum staffing requirements for correctional officers, medical care providers and other personnel—a move that saved the Bureau nearly $10 million. “BOP officials told us they removed these staffing requirements to achieve cost savings and grant the contractor flexibility and discretion to manage the staffing of the facility,” the report states.
The cash saving measure is hardly worth it, Reeves has experienced riots, complaints of inadequate medical care and allegations that prison officials use solitary confinement to retaliate against prisoners who complain. The prison has been the stage of several riots, including two in late 2008 and early 2009 that caused over $1 million in damage. An alleged hunger strike occurred in March of this year when several prisoners claimed they were put in solitary confinement for seeking legal representation.
According to the Texas Observer, health service-providers, Correct Care Solutions LLC, has failed to reach BOP’s requirement to maintain staffing levels at 85 percent for 90 percent of the last three years.
The audit also criticized the GEO Group for arbitrarily sending prisoners into the “J-Unit”— a solitary confinement which was created after a round of inmate protests in October 2013. After the protest, 364 inmates were sent to Reeves’ solitary confinement unit, which was originally designed for only 210.
Audit investigators discovered that 9 out of 10 of those prisoners sent after the protest did not meet the prison’s own criteria to be put into solitary confinement. The audit listed several recommendations for the prison, including the remedying of unallowable costs of over $2 million, the assurance that policies and procedures be established for the J-Unit and the emphasis on improving the prison’s monitoring system. The rest can be viewed on page 44 of the audit here.