The Karnes County family detention center, operated by the GEO Group, was at the center of a scandal over the denial of treatment for a seven year old girl with brain cancer detained inside with her mother.
Last week Grassroots Leadership highlighted ICE’s refusal to release a Nayely, a seven-year-old with a life threatening brain tumor, from Karnes County Family Detention Center even after her mom, Sara, passed a Credible Fear Interview, the threshold for qualifying for asylum.
ICE's refusal to allow a terminally ill child to bond out of detention to receive treatment is due to a new "no or high bond" policy for immigrants seeking asylum. The policy was enacted to act as a deterrant for people who may be considering seeking asylum here. According to the Houston Chronicle, Nina Pruñeda, an ICE spokeswoman, stated that bond is actually being granted on a case by case basis. Legally, two factors are used to determine bond eligibility: whether the person is a flight risk or a danger to the community. Some advocates might argue that mothers with children are neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.
In light of the new policy, we are very happy to report that Nayely and her mom Sara were released from Karnes last week after ICE was overwhelmed by intense media coverage and phone calls from people demanding their immediate release. Nayely's condition was evaluated at Dell Children's Hospital in Austin on Tuesday, September 9th.
About 40 women and children arrived the morning of August 1 at the Karnes County detention center near San Antonio. Another bus was expected that afternoon.
The Karnes detention center is operated by the GEO Group, a for-profit private prison company that was recently the target of hunger strikes by immigrant detainees in its custody three times in two facilities this year. The Karnes County detention center was was swiftly emptied of its current occupants to make way for women and children who have fled Central America.
The newly-converted family detention center can house up to 532 people at a cost of $140 a day, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Enrique Lucero, field office director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the Chronicle that while each case will vary, officials are planning an average stay of 23 days per family, underlining concerns raised by many attorneys that due process for those seeking asylum is being undermined. Lucero also admitted to USA Today that the family detention and deportation were being used to send a message. "After your immediate detention and due process, there's every likelihood you'll be returned to your country," Lucero said.
KSAT San Antonio reports that there were no protestors at Karnes as the first buses arrived. However, the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor did see protestors on Saturday, August 9. The protest commemorated the 5th anniversary of the end of family detention at the T. Don Hutto detention center. About 50 people lined the street across from the detention center to protest, play music and screen a film about the practice of family detention.
The protestors there vowed to go to Karnes next.
Two buses are expected to arrive at Karnes daily, with a total of about 75 more women and children expected every day for the coming weeks.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released a statement that 24 year old immigrant from El Salvador has passed away at a Laredo hospital after being held at the GEO Group's Rio Grande Detention Center in that city. According to the ICE release:
"Welmer Alberto Garcia-Huezo, 24, was declared deceased Aug. 3.
Garcia-Huezo was apprehended June 25 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Border Patrol near Harlingen, Texas. Two days later, he was transferred to ICE custody and taken to Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo.
On July 6, Garcia-Huezo became ill and was immediately transferred from ICE custody to the Laredo Medical Center (LMC). LMC hospital staff initially diagnosed him with cardiac arrest. A medical examiner will review the case regarding the cause of death."
The RGDC recently underwent an expansion and added capacity for ICE detainees in addition the detainees from the United States Marshals, themselves often immigrants under criminal prosecution for an immigration violation. We will keep you posted on any developments from this story.
Family detention will return to Texas with the announcement that the Karnes County Civil Detention Center will be used to detain families and children who are seeking refuge at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Houston Chronicle reports that ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said the agency plans to start housing women and children at the center as soon as August.
Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio immigration attorney, told the Houston Chronicle that Karnes as a "detention center with a smiley face. From the outside, it looks like a high school. It doesn't have the same prison-like exterior that most detention facilities have.
"But make no mistake, it is a prison."
Grassroots Leadership denounced the plans in a statement that reads in part:
The last time family detention was used in Texas, it became a national embarrassment as children and babies detained at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center wore prison uniforms, lived in locked prison cells with open-toilets, were subjected to highly restricted movement, and threatened with alarming disciplinary tactics, including threats of separation from their parents if they cried too much or played too loudly. Medical treatment was inadequate and children as young as one lost weight.
“Given ICE’s shameful record of detaining immigrant families at the for-profit T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center, returning to mass family detention and deportation is a giant step backwards,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership. “The experience at Hutto was abysmal, and we shouldn’t allow the return of such treatment of asylum-seeking families.”
The Hutto Detention Center was also operated by a for-profit private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, and was subject to a lawsuit by the ACLU and the University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic contending that conditions at the facility violated minimum standards of care for detained children.
The Karnes center, opened in 2012 and operated by GEO Group Inc., will house up to 532 detainees.