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.
The Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco was the site of a protest on July 12. The detention center is operated by private prison company LaSalle Southwest Corrections.
Protestors came from Waco, Austin, Dallas, and Taylor to deliver know-your-rights materials to the facility after attorneys in Central Texas sounded the alarm overconditions in the center.
MyFox Austin reports:
"Protestors said the detention center should not be used to hold ICE detainees.
"I would love to see our local jail, our local law-enforcement abide by the law and then just not even enforce those, because they don't have to," said Waco immigration lawyer Kent McKeever.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, (D) TX-35, agrees that detention centers aren't the answer.
"I think we should look for alternatives to detention centers. There's so many religious organizations and community service organizations that will be willing to host some of these families. That's the better approach," said Doggett.
Protestors said the center lacks adequate medical care, doesn't provide access to a legal library, limits visitation and treats detainees like criminals.
"The families are being broken up for unfair, unjust and irrational reasons," McKeever said.
The Jack Harwell Detention Center said they are required to follow National Detention Standards. They said they meet those standards and strive to provide the best care they can for detainees."
The Editorial Board at the New York Times denounced The House passing a trillion-dollar budget allocating $16 billion of those funds to immigration enforcement.
According to the opinion piece, House Republicans tout this sum as one that "will allow for the highest operational force levels in history" for Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The bill also calls for 2,000 additional CBP officers at border ports and requires that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fill no fewer than 34,000 detention beds per day until September 30, 2014.
The Editorial Board has this to say about the mandatory detention of immigrants:
Take the irrational obligation to fill all those detention beds, at the cost of about $122 per day. Why make the people who run a vast and expensive law-enforcement apparatus responsible for keeping prison beds warm rather than communities safe--especially when there are low-cost alternatives to detention that don't involve fattening the bottom lines of for-profit prison corporations?
The authors further denounce the Obama administration, which they claim has used its enforcement powers to deport roughly 400,000 people annually. Immigrants mandatorily detained in for-profit prisons continue to suffer at great cost to taxpayers.
As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year. Our third biggest story of 2013 was the growing campaign to close the privately-operated Polk County Detention Center in Livingston, Texas.
About 90 miles northeast of Houston is what many advocates call one of the worst immigration detention centers in the U.S. The Polk County Detention Center in Livingston, Texas is notorious for its substandard conditions, poor quality food and discriminatation against immigrant detainees. The facility is operated by private prison corporation Community Education Centers.
In fact, the Polk Detention Center has been attracting the attention of human rights activists in Texas for some time. In November of 2012, Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families released a report on the conditions at Polk and recommended it's immediate closure.
That set the stage for 2013, when the campaign to close Polk ramped up with several actions targeting the facility. One such action came in April when 37 national and Texas-based organizations sent a letter to then-DHS Sec. Janet Napolitano calling for the immediate closure of Polk. The letter read in part:
"ICE should prioritize release of immigrants into alternatives to detention and community support programs that are far more humane, less costly, and are effective at ensuring immigrants are able to appear at their hearings. As a first step toward ending inhumane detention, we call for the closure of the IAH Polk County Secure Adult Detention Center."
And on Father's Day (June 15), a caravan of protestors traveled from Austin and Houston to Polk to hold a vigil for the fathers detained at Polk. The event drew extensive media coverage and even the attention of Representative Lloyd Doggett, who said in a statement:
"I commend you for your efforts in highlighting the mistreatment in some detention centers and support you in your campaign to expose the truth and bring justice to this situation."
Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families also returned to Polk in 2013 to interview detained immigrants about conditions. Unfortunately, they found that nothing had improved since their previous visit in July 2012, and in fact, some things were much worse.
This prompted the release of a second report on Polk, called "The Top Ten Reasons the Polk County Detention Center Still needs to be Closed." The report cites 10 serious human and civil rights abuses reported by multiple detained immigrants and renews the demand from Texas advocates to close the facility.
The on-going campaign to close Polk was intensified in 2013, setting the stage for advocates and communities to apply more pressure in 2014.