Last month, February 25th, an uprising over negligence, poor sanitation, and lack of medical care occurred at the “Tent City” criminal alien requirement (CAR) prison in Willacy County. Following the uprising, Management and Training Corporation (MTC) lost its contract with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and fired the nearly 400 employees that worked there. All of the 2,400 prisoners were transferred to other facilities around the country.
Although MTC is investigating the uprising, there are no immediate plans to reopen the facility. The damage, loss of the BOP contract, and the layoffs are piling up on top of the county's $63 million debt from the building of the facility.
All this has caused the Willacy County Local Government Corp. bonds to be downgraded to junk status by the S&P. The already struggling county will be left to fill the gaps in its budget, and will not be able to afford some of its planned expenditures — including a new hurricane shelter.
The model of MTC and other private prison companies is to find small, struggling towns and counties like Willacy and Raymondsville and promise them economic recovery. The aftermath of the Willacy uprising is one more example of how they do not deliver on their promises, and if anything goes wrong, the companies bail — leaving the vulnerable community to fend for itself.
Yesterday, reports emerged that nearly 80 immigrant women at Karnes family detention center near San Antonio signed a letter announcing that beginning this morning they would participate in a Holy Week fast, during which they would not eat, send their children to school, or use any facility services until they received an answer to their demands.
According to their letter, the purpose of the strike is to demand their release and protest the conditions in which their children are being held.
The original hand-written letter is pictured above, and a translated version reads as follows:
“In the name of the mothers, residents of the Center for Detentions in Karnes City, we are writing this petition whereby we ask to be set free with our children. There are mothers here who have been locked in this place for as long as 10 months.
We also have mothers, that because they have had a previous deportation, are not granted a bond. They are granting a bond to their children, but they are not allowing an out to the mothers. This is the motive that we have taken the initiative of uniting ourselves and initiating a Hunger Strike, so that you can see and feel our desperation.
We have come to this country, with our children, seeking refugee status and we are being treated like delinquents. We are not delinquents nor do we pose any threat to this country.
During this Hunger Strike, no mother will work in the center of detention or send our children to school. We will not use any of the services provided by this place until we have been heard and our freedom has been approved.
All of the mothers demand that you give us a solution. Included amongst us are mothers whom this is the first time they have been in this country.
Asylum Officials have conducted Credible Fear Interviews and determined them to be Positive. Even after having a result of positive, we are still detained because we are not able to pay the elevated bond and in some cases we are not given the opportunity to pay the bond.
You should know that this is only the beginning and we will not stop until we achieve our objectives. This strike will continue until every one of us is freed.
The conditions, in which our children find themselves, are not good. Our children are not eating well and every day they are losing weight. Their health is deteriorating.
We know that any mother would do what we are doing for their children.
We deserve to be treated with some dignity and that our rights, to the immigration process, be respected.There are some mothers that lost their appeal for Asylum and were forced to sign deportation papers. We believe that this is unjust because they have come to this country asking for Asylum because they are in danger in their country. And now they are being deported back to the place where they could even lose their life.
This petition is signed by all the mothers, of this center, in detention.”
Douglas Menjivar, an immigrant just released from the Polk County Detention Center in Livingston after 22 months in detention, says he was raped in September and October 2013 while detained at the Joe Corley detention center. Joe Corley is an immigrant detention center in Conroe, Texas run by the private prison corporation GEO Group.
Menjivar says he reported the rape to the supervising Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer known only as "Mr. Hernandez," immediately after it occurred, but was ridiculed and called “stupid” for "allowing himself to be raped."
Menjivar officially reported the incident to an ICE doctor in December 2014. The agency concluded its investigation in February, stating that the results of the investigation “do not corroborate the accusation.” However, Menjivar told Semana News that he couldn't provide the names of the four witnesses to the rape because he feard for the safety of his family in El Salvador.
While at the Joe Corley Detention Center, Menjivar participated in a hunger strike last year to call attention to the inhumane conditions at the facility. The hunger strike at Joe Corley was inspired by hunger strikes at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Shortly after protests in June 2014, ICE transferred some of the immigrant protesters detained at Joe Corley to other facilities, but the majority were deported.
Menjivar has been issued an order of deportation but says he fears for his life if returned to El Salvador. Menjivar's attorney appealed to the 5th Circuit Appellate Court to stop his deportation on the grounds that since he does not have a criminal record in this country, he should not be an enforcement priority. Though the legal process has not yet been successful, advocates credit Menjivar's recent release to a congressional letter by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee requesting a stay of deportation. Additionally, due to the danger he would face if deported, the Salvadoran consulate did not issue departure papers, which further delayed his deportation.
In December, we reported that the Maverick County Detention Center was at the center of a lawsuit over rape allegations. A woman who was detained at the facility sued GEO Group, alleging that the company was negligent in operating the facility. She says this led to her rape by a 27-year-old guard named Luis Armando Valladarez.
The facility remains open but is no longer operated by the GEO Group, begging the question, “who operates it now?”.
First, some history. The GEO Group signed a contract to build the 654-bed facility in Maverick County and began operating it in 2007. But in 2013, Maverick County Judge David Saucedo called a press conference to announce that GEO was ending the contract. At the time, he suggested the facility would find a new purpose.
That new purpose appears to be coming under the control of the county’s public facility corporation, a legal entity that can finance public facilities and issue bonds on behalf of its sponsor. The legal details are laid out here.
The Maverick County Public Facility Corporation was incorporated by Maverick County Commissioners Court in 2007 as a separate non-profit corporation in order to create a legal entity to construct and operate the Maverick County Detention Center and to issue over $40 Million in Bonds for the construction of the over 625 bed prison facility. Maverick County contracted with a private prison management company, The Geo Group, Inc., to operate the Maverick County Detention Center, since its opening but The Geo Group, Inc. withdrew from managing the prison facility on October 31, 2013 at 12 Midnight, forcing Maverick County to request the Maverick County Sheriff’s Department to take over management of the prison facility. Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber appointed Guillermo De Los Santos as the Warden of the Maverick County Detention Center.
This isn’t the first time that GEO Group has left a county with an expensive facility and no choice but to take it over. In 2009, we reported the Beaumont Correctional Center to be one of at least five GEO facilities that had been closed or put under new management in several years. Then there's a long saga of Littlefield, a small Texas town still paying dearly for partnering with GEO Group on the promise that a detention center would bring jobs.