Last week, Bethany reported on attorneys that were being denied access to see their clients at the massive family detention camp in Dilley, Texas operated by Corrections Corporation of America. Today's Austin American-Statesman has an Associated Press article by Seth Robbins detailing even more denial of access to pro bono immigration attorneys at Dilley. According to Robbins:
"Attorney Kim Hunter received a letter earlier this month from immigration authorities telling her she'd been banned from a family detention center in South Texas for being "belligerent" in demanding the release of her clients one late July night.
Andrew Free learned Aug. 3 that he'd also been banished from the country's largest such facility after the attorney marched into a courtroom trailer 10 days before to ask why U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were meeting with his clients without his knowledge.
ICE says the two violated visitation standards, but a coalition of immigration attorneys says the bans are unprecedented and is fighting to rescind them as part of its ongoing effort to improve access to the immigrant mothers and their children who are in the U.S. without legal permission and being held at the facility."
Transparency has been an issue at the facility and the other family detention center in Karnes County from the outset with legal support groups and advocates arguing that ICE and private prison corporations, CCA and GEO Group, have inappropriately denied access to academics, lawyers, paralegals, and human rights groups. In fact, Robbins addresses this pattern in his piece:
"[T]he lawyers say immigration authorities are increasingly hindering their ability to represent clients. They gave examples such as citing security concerns as a way to deny access to counsel, limiting access to courtrooms, keeping out psychologists who've received clearance and sudden rule changes, such as not allowing cellphones to be left in lockers, meaning the lawyers must keep the phones locked away in hot cars."
While ICE seems set on keeping scrutiny of its facilities to a minimum, a judge's order may end the practice all together. On Friday, Judge Dolly Gee reiterated her decision from July that the government had violated a settlement agreement from the 1990s governing the detention of migrant children. According to McClatchy:
"A federal judge ruled late Friday night that the Obama administration has just over two months to begin releasing hundreds of migrant mothers and children who have been locked up in government family detention centers as they await their asylum hearings.
In a 15-page ruling that quoted Mahatma Gandhi, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in Central California delivered a scolding rebuke of the government's expanded use of family detention centers. But she also granted the government one of its key requests for additional time – as much as 20 days - to continue to hold mothers and children under certain circumstances like last year's surge of nearly 70,000 Central American families into the United States.
“This is a historic decision,” said Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration and asylum law at Cornell Law School. “If it stands, it will force major changes to the government’s family detention program.”
While this policy may be good for asylum-seeking families, it's bound to negatively impact CCA and GEO's bottom-lines. We will keep you posted with further developments on family detention.
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.
Columbia University this month became the first college in the U.S. to divest from private prisons, as the result of the student organizing campaign, Columbia Prison Divest.
Could the University of Texas be next for a divestment campaign? It's possible.
According to their publicly available filings, the UT Investment Management Corporation indirectly invests in the two largest private prison companies through its more than 18,000 shares in the Vanguard REIT Exchange Traded Fund. (REIT stands for Real Estate Investment Trust.) In turn, this fund in has nearly $300 million invested in the Corrections Corporation of America and more than $200 million invested in the GEO Group.
This wouldn't be the first time the University of Texas has been at the center of controversy over university ties to private prison companies. UT students, faculty, and alumni called out the McCombs School of Business in December over namesake Red McCombs' deal with CCA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to open the nation's largest family detention camp since Japanese internment. The family detention camp in Dilley, Texas, was leased to CCA and ICE by his real estate firm, Koontz McCombs.
Students, alumni and their supporters staged a sit-in at the off of the dean of the McCombs School of Busness demanding a meeting. About 50 UT faculty members also signed a letter to University President William Powers asking him to put pressue on McCombs to reconsider the deal.
In December, news broke that McCombcs had sold his stake in the firm.