Cleveland City Council in October rejected a bid from Emerald Correctional Management LLC of Shreveport, Louisiana, to build a new for-profit immigrant detention center in this community 50 miles northeast of Houston, according to a report from YourHousonNews.com (Cleveland City Council rejects immigration detention center proposal, Oct. 21, 2015)
Those who came to speak against the proposal talked about what the detention center would do to the community’s image and the company’s dubious track record (which includes leaving Encinal, Texas and $20 million in debt). Even the usual private prison promise of “bringing jobs” drew sharp rebuke. Cleveland attorney Mollie Lambert said that only meant 300 home foreclosures would follow in the future.
Emerald’s General Council Hull Youngblood spoke before the council and promised that the detention center will have a 75 percent occupancy guarantee and no families housed inside the building, possibly referring to the family detention centers in South Texas that a federal judge earlier this year ordered to release children detained there.
“It comes with a guarantee of 10 years of occupancy,” Youngblood, the Emerald representative, promised council members.
Such guarantees are all too common in immigrant detention centers. A report from Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights explains how insidious such guarantees (sometimes called local quotas) are:
[Immigration and Customs Enforcement] ICE’s contracts with private detention companies have exacerbated the effects of the federal detention bed quota by imposing local “lockup” quotas, contractual provisions that obligate ICE to pay for a minimum number of immigration detention beds at specific facilities, referred to in contracts as “guaranteed minimums.” Because guaranteed minimums require payment to private contractors whether beds are filled or not, ICE faces considerable pressure to fill them. Local lockup quotas that serve to protect the bottom line of private companies thus incentivize the imprisonment of immigrants.
Youngblood previously testified to Cleveland City Council in October that the proposed Cleveland unit, once operational, would have around 295 employees for Emerald and another 100 for ICE. All would be paid at the federal wage scale. For Emerald employees, this would mean an average annual salary of $43,000. As for why ICE wants to build in the area? Youngblood said ICE wants detention facilities to be within 50 miles of an international airport, in this case Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
In August, The Cleveland Advocate contacted County Judges in other Texas communities where similar facilities were built, Polk County Judge Sidney Murphy: why build a new immigrant detention center so close to Livingston where one sits less than half-full? The Advocate reports that Judge Murphy told them:
...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.
The final vote against the detention center in Cleveland was 2-2 with Mayor Niki Coats casting a swing vote against the proposal.
A recent NPR story, As Asylum Seekers Swap Prison Beds For Ankle Bracelets, Same Firm Profits, shed light on a new profiteering industry for private prison companies, community detention. No stranger to Texas Prison Bid’ness, GEO Group is one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S. and operates 15 federal migrant detention centers, many of which detain children and families. In a new kind of federal surveillance, families are being released from these facilities, but are required to wear tracking devices and remain closely monitored. Who is conveniently positioned to provide the tracking devices and community supervision? Geo Care, a subsidiary of GEO Group.
Geo Care received a $56 million contract to provide ankle monitoring services for 10,000 migrants and telephone check-ins for 20,000 migrants. In addition, in September ICE awarded Geo Care an $11 million contract to provide case management services to migrants who have been released.
ICE clarified why Geo Care was selected to run the program instead of a social service entity usually responsible for case management. "...We really aim to ensure that there's a wide variety of different tools that we can use for compliance," says ICE assistant director Lorenzen-Strait. Disturbingly, the manager for Geo Care's new Family Case Management Program is a former top official in ICE's Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations.
Job descriptions of GEO Family Case Managers and Sr. Case Managers confirm ICE’s intent. It is clear that first and foremost, “case managers” are community detention officers, whose primary role is to monitor the lives of released migrants. Job description duties include:
“Conducts regular and on-going monitoring of family participants through in-person check-ins (e.g., home or office visits) and telephonic reporting. At a minimum, check-ins must be done prior to any appointment, hearing, or other immigration required obligation. Conducts additional check-ins as needed to promote compliance with immigration requirements.”
Although alternatives to detention offer opportunities for families to be released, this “freedom” comes with continued surveillance and control, and private prison companies continue to make millions.
City officials in Shepherd, TX have "just disregarded" Senator John Whitmire's warning against contracting with private corrections company, Emerald Correctional Management LLC, to build a new lockup for immigrants awaiting deportation.
On November 3rd, the Houston Chronicle reported that Sen. Whitmire sent a two-page letter to the Shepherd Mayor Pro Tem Sherry Roberts to tell her history has shown that partnering with private prison companies to build local lockups is a bad idea.
In a November 24th update, we learned that Shepherd city officials opted not to heed Whitmire’s warning. According to the article:
"Debra Hagler, the city secretary, said officials there 'just disregarded' Whitmire's letter. 'The resolution had already been signed and sent,' she said."
If, for any reason, the contract between Emerald and the federal government falls through, Whitmire told the prison company in a letter that Texas will have "no part" in filling empty beds.
A lawsuit filed by Grassroots Leadership (my organization, and a co-sponsor of Texas Prison Bid'ness) won a temporary injunction on November 20th that halts the Texas' Department of Family and Protective Services from licensing two large, for-profit detention centers in South Texas as childcare facilities. Private prison corporations Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group are seeking the licenses for the prisons in Dilley and Karnes City respectively in order to comply with a finding by Federal Judge Dolly Gee that detaining children in unlicensed, secure detention centers violates a decades old settlement known as Flores.
250th District Judge Karin Crump ruled that the state had errered in issuing and emergency that allowed the agency to license the facilities without interested parties, including Grassroots Leadership, being able to comment on the licensure rule. The state has now issued a proposed permanent rule on the licensing that allows public comment before December 13th.
Similar to the emergency rule, the permanent rule also proposes to reduce child safety standards that are applicable to all other childcare facilities in Texas, essentially fitting the licensing regulation to the facilities rather than making the two detention centers meet all normal child welfare standards. Organizations and invividuals are able to make comments on the proposed licensure of the facilities through a form on the Grassroots Leadership website.