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.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar drew a rebuke from his colleagues in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for proposing legislation that would make it easier to deport Central American children who are turning themselves in at the southern border.
Rep. Cuellar, along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), proposed legislation to allow unaccompanied migrant children from Central America to leave the U.S. voluntarily rather than go through mandated legal processes — a "voluntary removal" system that is the current standard for children from Mexico and Canada.
The two Texas lawmakers call it the "Humane Act" and it changes a 2008 law, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act, or TVPRA, to make it easier to deport these children faster, who are mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Currently, the TVPRA requires that unaccompanied minors from countries other than Canada and Mexico to be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, and then released to the custody of relatives or other caregivers as they wait to have their cases heard in immigration court.
The New York Times notes that "The act sought to protect young victims of human trafficking. It was widely praised by lawmakers of both parties when President George W. Bush signed it into law."
They also called it a terrible idea.
Rep. Henry Cuellar is a familiar name to readers of this blog for his close ties to GEO Group. Thanks to campaign contributions from GEO, Rep. Cuellar is the top Democratic recipient of private prison money in the House.
The GEO-owned Karnes Detention Center sits in Rep. Cuellar's district and was recently in the news because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) plans on detaining families there as soon as August.
A suspended ceiling collapsed Saturday at a for-profit private prison in East Texas, injuring several prisoners and trapping several others who needed to be rescued.
The collapse happened in the day room of the Diboll Correctional Center, which is southwest of Lufkin. The facility is operated by the Management and Training Corporation under contract by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. According to the MTC website, it has a capacity of 518 prisoners. The facility has 136 employees, 97 security guards and 20 non-security personnel. The facility was built in 1995.
The Lufkin Daily News reports that one incarcerated person suffered critical injuries and several others suffered non-life threatening injuries. Diboll Police Sgt. Brandan Lovell told the Lufkin Daily News that 87 inmates were in the room at the time of collapse. The collapse sent several prisoners to area hospitals:
Several were transported by ambulance to Memorial Medical Center-Lufkin and Woodland Heights Medical Center in Lufkin.
Memorial spokeswoman Yana Ogletree confirmed that six patients were transported there, with one listed as critical. That inmate was transported by helicopter to Memorial Hermann Healthcare System in Houston. Of the five remaining patients, two were admitted and three were in triage, being treated for non-life-threatening injuries. Around 5:37 p.m., Ogletree gave a update that one inmate had been discharged from Memorial and that two more would likely be discharged, as well. Two patients were expected to be admitted to the hospital, with one likely to need surgery, Ogletree said. She said the range of injuries included scrapes and bruises as well as broken bones, contusions and lacerations.
Jennifer Stevens, spokeswoman for Woodland Heights Medical Center, said 13 patients from the collapse were taken to that hospital and that two were admitted. Both were in stable condition, she said.
The collapse happened as prisoners and their families were preparing for visitation. Katrina Salutan was with her daughter Aaliyah, 3, preparing to visit someone at the facility when the collapse occurred.
“There were all these police cars up here,” Salutan told the Lufkin Daily News. “One of the guards walked by. He told me that the ceiling fell down, and I asked him who was hurt and he said, ‘A few people.’ He doesn’t know.”
Visitation was suspended for the day.
For their part, local law enforcement were caught off guard and also had trouble getting answers from MTC. Lufkin Police Chief Gerald Williamson told the Lufkin Daily News that he had never handled anything like this at the prison and that, like Salutan, he wasn't getting information fast enough from MTC staff.
“We are in a little bit of an odd situation because this is not our jurisdiction,” Williamson told the Lufkin Daily News. “The information has been very slow coming from prison staff. We don’t have any established protocol because we have never handled anything like this.”
Diboll Police Sgt. Lovell said response time from every area law enforcement agency was almost immediate, but echoed Williamson's concerns about how difficult it was to get information from MTC officials.
“I think Lufkin Police arrived before I did; even the chief and assistant chief are here,” Lovell told the Lukfin Daily News. “As far as what is going on inside, I am having to pull information from there. Even the guards don’t know what’s happening. I do know there is no threat of an escape. I think, given the situation, this has been handled as well as could be without getting any info from the inside.”
The Lufkin Daily News also reported that Major Ken Montgomery, an MTC official, stepped outside the gates only after the emergency response vehicles had cleared and offered this brief statement: “We’re good.”
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."