According to memos from a migrant attorney group, a tentative court ruling regarding the legality of detaining immigrant women and children was made by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in California on April 24. The 22-page ruling states that the Obama administration’s policy of detaining migrant children is in violation with an 18-year-old settlement called Flores v. Meese.
According to McClatchy DC, the ruling has not officially been filed but the migrant lawyers and federal attorneys were given 30 days to come to an agreement. Now that the 30 days have passed, the agreement has been given an extension. Gee will issue a final ruling on the matter if no agreement is reached.
McClatchy reports that some believe the tentative court ruling could force the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to drastically change current policy. They may decide to take any number of options: release undocumented women and children into the community; release the children but detain the mothers; or completely overhaul the way the agency shelters the migrants until their cases are heard by immigration courts.
According to the memos, the Flores ruling states that children and their mothers cannot be detained in unlicensced, secure facilities like the Karnes County Residential Center and the South Texas Family Residential Center. It also states that it is inappropriate for migrant women and children to be detained unless they pose a safety risk to the community.
In 1997’s Flores v. Meese case, the settlement called for minors to be in the custody of family or legal guardians if available. The case also stipulates that the government is only allowed to detain children in safe and sanitary facilities that are licensed.
The debate over the future of the Liberty County Jail continues and it looks like it will all come down to cost.
Liberty County has been mulling over a proposal for the county to take over operations of the jail from Community Education Centers (CEC), which currently runs the facility. At a special meeting of the Liberty County Commissioners Court on May 19, Commissioners heard from county officials and others including CEC Warden Raye Carnes, Liberty County Indigent Health Care Director Donna Burt and Liberty County Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Rader.
Burt told commissioners that when the county last ran the jail, the biggest medical cost was providing malpractice insurance coverage for the jail doctor, costing $100,000 in the 1990s. Burt told commissioners that finding a doctor was the biggest challenge facing the county and that she didn’t think the county would save money by taking over operation of the jail.
Warden Carnes told commissioners that CEC provides medical care, but left out the company’s widely reported and troubled history. That history includes an incident that left a woman dead of pregnancy complications at an Indiana facility after CEC staff waited hours to seek emergency medical care.
Commissioners hired Austin-based consultant firm MGT of America, Inc. in August 2014 to advise the county on which route would save the county money. In March of this year, MGT told commissioners that the cost of running the jail would be the same whether it was run by the county sheriff or CEC “or 'Johnny’s Garage and Jail Service.'" MGT also told commissioners in the same meeting that their best bet to reduce the cost of running the jail would be to reduce the jail population.
For his part, Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson, a Republican who ran and won on a platform of kicking CEC out of the jail, cited projections that the average population would actually grow to 275 inmates over the next five years.
Sheriff Rader summed up the county’s concerns: “If it’s going to cost more money for us to take it over [from CEC], then it’s not the right thing to do.”
A change in management very well may be the right thing to do for those locked up in the jail. In April, two prisoners died in a single week at the CEC-run Liberty County Jail.
Over 600 protesters called for the end of the incarceration of immigrant women and children in Dilley, Texas on May 2, shutting down a highway along the way.
Organized by Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families, the protest brought people from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, Dallas, Falfurrias, San Marcos, and Elgin, Texas; as well as from Silver City and Santa Fe NM, Des Moines IA, Washington D.C., New York City, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Orange County, California. Protesters began in a park in central Dilley and marched almost 2 miles to the family detention camp.
During the march, they forced the closure of Texas Highway 85. Once outside the gates of the camp, the protesters heard from people who had been detained, including a woman who was held in a Japanese incarceration camp during WWII.
The South Texas Family Residential Center opened in December 2014 as the administration’s response to the arrival of Central American women and children seeking asylum from domestic violence, organized crime and gang violence.
"Many of them are escaping from violence and torture, from abuse at the hands of gangs," Sofia Casini told the Texas Tribune. "To be put inside of centers with armed guards, where the kids are yelled at, it's all a re-traumatization process."
Operated by The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the South Texas Family Residential Center is one of two family detention centers in Texas, along with the Karnes County Residential Center, which is operated by the GEO Group and can currently can hold 600 women and children. Karnes is set to expand to a capacity of 1,200. The Dilley facility detains 480 women and children, and is set to become the largest immigrant detention center in the United States with a capacity of 2,400.
In a statement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said that facilities like the one in Dilley are "an effective and humane alternative for maintaining family units."
Two prisoners have been reported dead in a single week at the privately operated Liberty County Jail.
According to reports, the body of 57-year-old Beverly Mooring was found “in medical distress and non-responsive in a detox cell” on April 15. She was later pronounced dead at the Liberty-Dayton Regional Medical Center.
Three days later the sheriff’s office received notification that 32-year-old Jeremy Keith Shomo was found dead in his cell after he allegedly hanged himself with a shoelace attached to a shower hook. Shomo’s case is currently under investigation by Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Ungles and the Texas Rangers.
The fate of Liberty County Jail, managed by private company Community Education Centers (CEC), is currently under debate. The county hired a firm to consult on whether it should continue its partnership with CEC to run the jail. The firm, MGT of America, Inc., told Commissioners back in February that the way to save money was to reduce the jail's population to allow for staffing cuts.
Time to decide is running out. The county’s contract with CEC expires at the end of the month.