The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), along with Immigration Rights and Civil Rights Clinics at the University of Texas Law School, Human Rights First, and the Law Office of Javier N. Maldonado, filed a complaint on September 30, 2014 with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demanding the immediate investigation of and swift response to widespread allegations of sexual abuse and harassment at the detention center in Karnes City.
In a press release about the complaint, MALDEF outlined the abuse allegations cited in the complaint to include the exploitation of vulnerable women by facility guards and staff, such as:
• removing female detainees from their cells late in the late evening and early morning hours for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts in various parts of the facility, and attempting to cover up these actions;
• calling detainees their "novias," or "girlfriends" and requesting sexual favors from female detainees in exchange for money, promises of assistance with their pending immigration cases, and shelter when and if the women are released; and
• kissing, fondling and/or groping female detainees in front of other detainees, including children.
The MALDEF release also says that "although this unlawful conduct was reported to Karnes Center personnel, to date, no reasonable actions have been taken to stop or prevent this abuse, or to prevent its escalation."
The GEO Group denied the allegations and ICE had no comment.
In April, Juan Aguilar, a former GEO employee was charged with sexual abuse of a detainee. The victim of the abuse was being detained at Pearsall during his deportation proceedings. The two men were working in the kitchen when Aguilar pulled down the detainee's pants off and performed fellatio on him in the freezer.
On Wednesday, a jury took just over an hour to find Aguilar guilty, and he is nowawaiting his sentence. Aguilar’s lawyer reportedly argued that he had no authority over the inmate and that the act was “wrong but not a crime,” and likened it to someone having an extra-marital affair — morally wrong but not illegal. However, the law in Texas is clear that sex between inmates and employees is absolutely illegal.
This is not the first time that the GEO Group, and specifically the detention center in Pearsall, has been involved in a sexual abuse scandal.
In July, we reported protests about sub-standard conditions in the Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco, Texas. The facility is privately run by LaSalle Southwest Corrections and was not originally meant for immigrant detention.
Protestors argued that officials denied the detainees basic rights like use of the telephone, reasonable access to visitation, or an adequate legal library.
The protests by advocates and criticism from attorneys apparently worked.
Norma Lacey, from ICE’s San Antonio Field Office confirmed. "We are currently not utilizing the Jack Harwell facility," Lacy wrote in an email to advocates asking to visit immigrants at Jack Harwell earlier this week. "We can notify you should we need to utilize it again."
The Jack Harwell Detention Center had about 250 beds for ICE detainees. The average age of the detainees’ was about 19 years old.
The Texas Observer reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are planning a massive new family detention center for immigrant families near San Antonio and that representatives of Corrections Corporation of America have already met with local government officials and landowners about it.
The faciltiy would sit on a 50-acre site just outside the town of Dilley, 70 miles southwest of San Antonio. The property is part of Sendero Ranch, a “workforce housing community,” more commonly called a “man camp,” for oilfield workers. Sendero Ranch is owned by Koontz McCombs, a commercial real estate firm.
Frio County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Flores told the Observer that local officials had recently met with CCA. Loren Gulley, vice president for Koontz McCombs, said the company is still negotiating but CCA is expected to run the detention center.
ICE is calling the yet-to-be-built 2,400-bed facility the “South Texas Family Detention Center.”
The detention center would be the third family detention center set up this summer in response to children and families from Central America fleeing to the Texas-Mexico border. The first was in Artesia, New Mexcio, and is run by ICE. The second was opened in Karnes City, Texas, last month and is operated by for-profit, private prison company the GEO Group.
CCA is not new to family detention. CCA operated the notorious T. Don Hutto family detention center until 2009, when the Obama Administration removed families from the facilities amid outcry and lawsuits over the conditions inside. Reports emerged that children as young as eight months old 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.