On August 18, Cleveland, TX Mayor Niki Coats announced at a city council meeting that a private prison operator had withdrawn plans to build a new immigrant detention facility.
The news drew cheers from more than two dozen residents who showed up to protest.
One week earlier, private prison contractor, Emerald Companies, had asked the city for a letter of intent. Coats refused to sign, saying, "It's not the kind of growth in the community we need."
Coats later explained that Emerald withdrew the plan claiming they had another location in mind.
When the Cleveland Advocate asked other Texas county judges about the impact on counties of building immigrant detention facilities, Polk County Judge Sidney Murphy had this to say:
"According to Murphy, in Polk County, the IAH Detention Facility operated by MTC of Utah and built a little more than 10 years ago is required to pay the county a per diem fee per inmate. However, the population of the 1,000-bed facility is so low, with only 300 beds being used, it is no longer generating any income for the county.
“'Why build a 1,000-bed facility when there is one less than 30 miles down the road that has only 300 beds being used?' Murphy asked."
Burnet County Judge James Oakley said after his county entered a 20-year revenue bond deal with a private prison company, the deal eventually went belly up, leaving the county with lost revenue and a facility that was much bigger than necessary.
It seems the Cleveland mayor and residents may have helped save Liberty County from similar fates.
On August 5th, in the midst of the legal battle concerning the fate of immigrant families currently locked up awaiting their asylum hearings, News 4 Tucson investigators shined a spotlight on how a small Arizona town is cashing in on the detention of immigrant women and children in Dilley, TX.
The report broke down the agreement between the City of Eloy, AZ, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
After the surge of Central American immigrants arrived at the Texas border last year, CCA rushed to build the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, TX. According to ICE spokesperson, Adelina Pruneda,
"The contracting process for the Dilley facility was necessarily accelerated in response to the 2014 humanitarian crisis of families entering through the Texas Rio Grande Valley from Central America. To accelerate the lengthy contracting process, ICE modified an existing contract with the City of Eloy, Arizona, to operate the Dilley facility. Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) has been contracted by the City of Eloy to provide day-to-day operation of the residential facility."
There was no bidding process and the city of Eloy gets fifty cents per bed per day to be the “fiscal agent”, amounting to around $438,000.
Meanwhile, at ICE’s Phoenix office, activists held a protest calling for justice for immigrant detainees who have died in ICE custody at the Eloy Detention Center.
In late July, pro bono attorneys representing detained families at the Dilley family detention camp through the CARA Pro Bono Project reported being “locked out” of the facilities after lodging complaints with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding “the cascade of due process violations and detrimental practices.” Attorneys report that their clients were forced to sign legal paperwork without their attorney present, even after clients asked for their attorney.
Brian Hoffman, lead attorney for CARA, said that ICE officials are “coercing women into accepting ankle monitors, denying access to legal counsel and impeding pro bono representation, along with mass disorganization and confusion in implementing the new release policy for mothers who fled violence and who are pursuing protection in the United States.”
Their complaint letter details incidents where attorneys were arbitrarily locked out of meeting with their clients until 5 minutes before their court hearings, or arbitrarily removed while in the midst of an interview with a client. Women were also intimidated into accepting ankle monitors, even when their bond had already been paid. Many recounted that officials told them that ankle monitors were a condition of release and that “lawyers have nothing to do with this matter.”
Attorneys are also pleading with ICE to permit them to instruct women being released from family detention about their terms of release, as immigration officials are not informing them of their legal responsibilities.
Social worker Olivia Lopez spoke to media and House Democrats in late July about the troubling inner workings of the GEO-operated Karnes family detention camp near San Antonio, Texas. She called what was happening at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility “tantamount to torture” and said that she was shocked when she began working at the facility to find that it was “really a prison.”
Lopez revealed that she was rebuked for attempting to provide basic social services such as showing the families the geographic location of the facility and creating better ways to document their concerns. In December, Lopez received this directive from her boss: “ICE: We don’t tell them anything.” She recalled that psychologists were encouraged to falsify records in order to leave a clean paper trail, and that they reported families’ stories to ICE agents.
She also observed severe medical neglect inside the facility, including instances where GEO staff ignored severe abdominal pain and cranial bleeding in toddlers and infants until the emergency became so severe that they were flown to a hospital to undergo major operations. Additionally, Lopez said during one chicken pox outbreak, each “resident” was forced to submit to a blood draw in a way that terrorized children and left many with heavy bruising.
Lopez also confirmed reports of retaliation against leaders of a hunger strike that took place inside the facility earlier this year. She says that leaders of the strike were placed in isolation, sometimes being separated from their children, who were placed in the care of guards with no childcare license. Children were not told of their mothers’ whereabouts and were left to sleep alone without protection.
At various points, Lopez observed that ICE officials condoned and participated in the environment that GEO created, which isolated and terrorized the detained mothers and children. Lopez stated that she was compelled to resign from her position in April after being asked to withhold information from federal officials and follow policies that violated her social work license. Her full testimony the the Congressional Progressive Caucus is available here.