Immigration Detention

Big Stories of 2011 - #4 - ICE's "Detention Reforms" Benefit Private Prison Corporations

Over the next several days, Texas Prison Bid'ness will be highlighting the top five Texas private prison stories of 2011, and looking forward to the new year.   Our #4 story of the year is Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "detention reforms" and their benefit to private prison corporations.

Back in 2009, many immigration reform advocates - including this author - were heartened when the Obama administration announced widespread reforms to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention system.  Those reforms were kicked off with the end of family detention at the T. Don Hutto detention center.  In fact, that change was our #1 story of 2009.

However, the promised broader reforms to the detention system - largely laid out in document called the Schriro report after its author Dora Schriro (who quickly left the agency) - have largely been a bust. 2011 was marked by record levels of detention and deportation.  The far-flung ICE detention now holds more than 33,000 immigrants on any given day.  Nearly half of those detention beds are operated by private prison corporations like Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation.  These companies pour millions of dollars into federal lobbying and campaign contributions. 

That lobbying is apparently paying off.  This month, Congress increased Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s budget by more than $50 million from last year, including an allocation for 34,000 daily immigration detention beds, up from 33,400 last year.  Here in Texas, troubled private prison corporation GEO Group was awarded a contract to operate ICE’s first new “civil” detention center in Karnes County, Texas, despite opposition from immigration and civil rights advocates.  (Similarly, Corrections Corporation of America is trying to win a contract for a new "civil" facility in South Florida, and private prison company Community Education Centers was just featured in a report about the role of campaign donations in winning an ICE-contracted detention center in New Jersey.)

Problems in ICE-contracted detention centers continue to be prevelant.  In October, the ACLU of Texas filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of women immigrants seeking asylum from sexual abuse and violence who have suffered sexual assault at the hands of detention officers.  Also in October, Human Rights First documented the continued widespread use of jails to house immigration detainees in civil custody.  PBS's Frontline outlined horrific conditions of confinement in ICE detention centers in its program "Lost in Detention." 

Even some of the bright spots in the reforms have been bitter-sweet.  When ICE announced that it would be ending its contract with MTC's notorious "tent city" detention center in Raymondville (the facility highlighted in the Frontline episode), the facility was immediately repurposed as a Bureau of Prisons-contracted facility for immigrants.  Many of those immigrant prisoners in BOP custody are serving federal prison time for nothing more than re-entering the country after deportation under Operation Streamline.

Despite all this, 2011 saw some major resistance to for-profit immigration detention centers.  More on that later in the week as we continue our top stories of 2011.

Cuentame video highlights conditions at CCA's T. Don Hutto detention center for Human Rights Day

Cuentame's Immigrants for Sale program has been putting out damning videos highlighting the private prison industry's role in the immigration detention and enforcement system.  For International Human Rights Day on Saturday, they issued this short video featuring one woman's experience at Corrections Corporation of America's T. Don Hutto facility in Taylor, Texas.  Check it out:


Human Rights and Private Prisons - They Don't Mix

Today is International Human Rights Day.  A day when people from across the world come together to reaffirm the basic rights that all people are entitled to, regardless of “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”  On December 10, 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.  The United States played a key role in securing the adoption of the UDHR.  The UDHR has since become the foundation of the modern UN human rights system, or in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt “the international Magna Carta.” 


While December 10th is a day for celebration, a day where we look back on the progress we have made, it is also a day for action, a day to speak out against the injustices and depravations of basic human dignity that still occur on a daily basis.  In Texas, we need not look far to see that our state and our nation have too often failed to uphold these basic rights.  The numerous immigration detention facilities in Texas provide a clear case in point. 


As frequent Texas Prison Bid’ness readers no doubt know, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) locks up approximately 400,000 each year at a cost of $1.9 billion.  To accomplish this horrendous feat, ICE contracts many of these detainees out to the for profit private prison industry, including to a number of private facilities in Texas.  The result: a massive transfer of public funds to private corporations that wastes scarce tax dollars and results in the depravation of basic human rights.  Just last week, ICE transferred immigrant women out of the Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco, a private jail operated by Community Education Centers, a for-profit private prison corporation after reports from inside the facility alleged a lack of access to medical care, including for pregnant women; spoiled food; no contact visits; and virtually non-existent access to attorneys.  Allegations such as these do not signal the existence of a few bad apples, rather they clarify the structural flaw in the private prison model: the legal obligation to both ensure basic human dignity and maximize shareholder profit.  These obligations are mutually exclusive.    


Want to do something to stop this abuse?  Join the Waco Dream Act Alliance, Hope Fellowship Church, Texans United for Families, Grassroots Leadership, and those affected by the immigrant detention system at a vigil in Waco for detained immigrants on International Human Rights Day (Saturday, 12/10).  The vigil will begin at 2pm at Heritage Park at Third and Austin and will highlight the more than 10,000 immigrant detention beds (and the humans suffering in them) in Texas.

GEO Group hiring in anticipation of opening Karnes Civil Detention Center

The GEO Group is hiring in anticipation of opening its Karnes County Civil Detention Center in Karnes City, according to an article in the South Texas usiness Journal (James Aldridge, "GEO Group to hire 400 positions in South Texas," November 17):

"Workforce Solutions Alamo is hosting a job fair in Floresville, Texas, to help GEO Group  to fill 400 jobs just south of San Antonio.

The company is building a new facility in Kenedy, Texas, and needs to fill open and available positions. Interested applicants should visit to see a list of available jobs. The job fair will be held at the Floresville Workforce Center on Nov. 29 from noon to 7 p.m. The pay range for the positions ranges from $9 per hour to $70,000 per year."

The facility is actually under construction and is just outside of Karnes City, and not Kenedy. It would be interesting to see which of the positions pay $9 an hour. 

As we've reported, the choice of GEO Group - perhaps Texas' most troubled private prison corporate - to operate Immigration and Custom's Enforcement's new model immigration detention center has raised eyebrows and opposition, including from my organization.  This opposition included a letter sent from 15 Texas-based civil and immigrant rights organizations to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano expressing opposition to the facility. 

We'll keep you posted on developments from Karnes County. 

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