“What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons.” -- Molly Ivins, 2003

Report Exposes Treatment of Asylum Seekers Denied Parole in Texas

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Human Rights First published a timely report, “Judge and Jailer: Asylum Seekers Denied Parole in Wake of Trump Executive Order,” that exposes the Trump administration’s lengthened detention of asylum seekers following the Executive Order issued on January 25. The research names South Texas as an area where ICE rarely, if ever, grants parole to asylum seekers who meet the criteria of the 2009 ICE Asylum Parole Directive.

The report includes an excerpt from Martín Méndez Pineda’s article in the Washington Post from May 25, 2017 detailing his experience in detention:

“From the first day I crossed the border heading north, I saw discrimination, abuse and humiliation. They transferred me to a privately run detention center called West Texas Detention Facility in the city of Sierra Blanca. There, I experienced the worst days of my life. It is known by the detainees as ‘el gallinero’ (‘the henhouse’), because the barracks resemble a stable for livestock. It was designed for about 60 people but houses more than 100, who are exposed to all kinds of diseases and don’t have access to adequate medical attention. The henhouse of Sierra Blanca is small, with metal bunks, worn-out rubber mattresses, wooden floors, bathrooms with the walls covered in green and yellow mold, weeds everywhere, and snakes and rats that come in the night. The guards look at the detainees with disgust, and everything we say to them is ignored. Honestly, it is hell.”

The report also uncovers that asylum seekers have been denied parole to keep bed spaces filled, while others are granted asylum when space is needed. For example, at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas owned by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA), women who met the criteria for parole have generally been denied release. The research shows this trend changed according to capacity: “Then pro bono attorneys learned that arriving asylum seekers who had passed credible fear screenings were suddenly receiving parole assessments and in some cases were released from detention. This aberration appeared to coincide with an increase in the number of women sent to the facility, suggesting that the parole grants may have been prompted by a need to free up bed space at the facility.”

 

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Private Prisons Map Update

We have recently updated our map to indicate the most up-to-date information on private prisons and detention centers in Texas.

In 2017, three privately-operated prisons were closed with the advocacy of criminal justice leaders: West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility, Bartlett State Jail, and Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility.

We have also updated our list of operating companies:

Our map will continue to be updated as Immigration and Customs Enforcement solicits contracts for more detention beds in Texas, such as the Montgomery ICE Processing Center under construction to be operated by GEO Group.

Gay Asylum Seeker from Ghana Detained in South Texas, Ordered for Deportation Despite Claim to Due Process Violations

An article by the Intercept investigated the story of Sadat Ibrahim, a gay man from Ghana, who is facing deportation from within the South Texas ICE Processing Facility. Ibrahim arrived to the California border to seek asylum after being targeted by vigilante gangs in his community. He was a victim of violence motivated by homophobia while in his home community in Accra, where it is illegal to be gay.

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Ibrahim entered the U.S. through the San Ysidro U.S. border checkpoint between San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico, where he asked for help and claimed asylum. He was then sent to Georgia and detained in Stewart Detention Center, run by CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA), where he had no access to legal representation. According to The Intercept’s reporting, Ibrahim and his lawyer denounced ICE for withholding critical evidence for his asylum case sent by mail. “They maintain that an immigration judge would not have denied Ibrahim’s asylum claim if that evidence had been delivered,” the article says. Stewart Detention Center has been criticized by outside observers for due process violations, lack of access to legal assistance, and denied delivery of mail — issues seen at the several private CoreCivic-operated facilities in Texas.

Ibrahim has been transferred to South Texas ICE Processing Facility. He reports feeling terrified as deportation proceedings are underway. As an LGBT-identifying individual, he faces increased risk of violence within detention, and an uncertain future under the Trump Administration.

“Advocates also worry about the future of asylum cases for LGBTQ individuals under the new administration. Though Ibrahim’s due process disaster took place under Barack Obama, and the decision to deny him asylum was handed down less than a week after Trump became president, the new administration’s actions show a pattern of disregard for international LGBTQ rights,” the article states.

 

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Trump Pushing to Expand Operation Streamline and Migrant Incarceration in Private Prisons

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President Trump is pushing to expand Operation Streamline, a federal procedure to prosecute immigrants en masse with the federal crime of improper entry, reports the Houston Chronicle. While the first entry is charged as a misdemeanor, improper re-entry is charged as a felony with up to 20 years in prison. The Trump administration plans to expand the existence of this court procedure to California. Immigrants convicted in Operation Streamline and other federal court proceedings for immigration accounted for over half of federal criminal convictions in 2016. According to the Houston Chronicle, “By 2013, misdemeanor and felony prosecutions for crossing the border had skyrocketed to more than 91,200 cases, a 500 percent increase from 2003.” Those convicted are incarcerated in privately-operated Bureau of Prison facilities, most of which are located in Texas.

The government renamed Operation Streamline as Criminal Consequence Initiative last year. Since its inception in 2005, it has cost an estimated $7 billion according to Indefensible, the book published by Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies on the topic.

The criminal conviction of a prison sentence is intended to deter migrants from crossing the border, which ICE claims has lessened border crossings. According to the article by the Houston Chronicle, “The Government Accountability Office, however, has found problems with the agency's methodology, suggesting return rates basically remained unchanged when measuring over a more realistic time frame of three years and excluding immigrants who stayed in the United States in that period.”

The article further cites advocates’ denouncing of the program as a violation of immigrants’ due process rights, particularly for those seeking to claim asylum. “Both the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and Human Rights First, a national non-profit, have documented dozens of instances in which Customs and Border Protection officers wrongly didn't refer migrants for asylum interviews or pressured them into withdrawing their requests,” the article reports.

The push to expand Operation Streamline would likely lead to the construction of more private prisons under the Trump administration. Operation Streamline and associated felony prosecutions have driven contracts for 13 new privately operated “Criminal Alien Requirement” prisons from 2000-2013, according to Grassroots Leadership.

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