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Walker County applies to house immigrant detainers for feds

Walker County submitted an application to U.S. immigration officials to house undocumented immigrants charged with criminal offenses, reports the Huntsville Item.

Walker County Sheriff Clint McRae and Captain Steve Fisher met with both Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to discuss the possibility of detaining undocumented immigrants in the Walker County Jail. For now the county could only lease 20 beds to the federal government, because any more would cause staffing and other issues at the jail. However, the sheriff said that the county could take more immigrants detainees if a deal was struck with DHS and ICE.

If a contract is approved, the jail would have to meet federal standards to house detainees. Capt. Fisher believes that will not be an issue since the jail is only a few years old. Sheriff McRae said that if the contract is awarded, he will consider sending four deputies to Washington D.C. to be trained by ICE as part of the 287(g) program.

When the jail was being built, Walker County officials told taxpayers that they would look for ways to bring in additional revenue. Capt. Fisher said that is what they are doing.


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Homeland Security advisory committee recommends end to family detention

The Department of Homeland (DHS) Security's Advisory Committee on Family Detention has recommended that DHS end its policy of detaining children and their families, reports Human Rights First.  

The 166-page report by the Advisory Committee on Family Detention emphasized that the recommendation to end the practice of family detention is consistent with U.S. law. This recommendation follows a growing body of medical and mental health literature that shows the harmful impacts of detention on children's health.    

There are currently three family detention centers in the U.S., with one in Berks County, Pennsylvania, and two located in Texas. The South Texas Family Residential Camp, located in Dilley, Texas, has denied access to attorneys in the past, while the Karnes Family Detention Center has been accused of violating laws related to the American with Disabilities Act. Women detained at the Berks Family Detention Center in Pennsylvania went on a hunger strike this past summer to protest their prolonged detention.  

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ICE may house undocumented immigrants in private prisons closed by DOJ

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may soon reopen private prisons in Ohio, New Mexico, and Robstown, Texas, as reported by Correctional News.  

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is considering reopening these three facilities to handle an influx of undocumented immigrants reported to be entering the U.S. This move comes after the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it would begin phasing out the use of private prisons in the federal prison system.

The facilities in Ohio, New Mexico, and Texas had previously been used exclusively by the Bureau of Prisons, which falls under the jurisdiction of the DOJ. .  However, this comes at a time when the Department of Homeland Security is doing its own review of private prison use, and will decide in the next months whether to continue using private companies to run their immigrant detention centers.

The facility in Robstown, Texas is operated by the GEO Group, a for-profit prison company. This facility has a history of issues, including failed Texas Commission on Jail Standards reviews, inmate escapes, and prisoner deaths.

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ICE Renews Private Contract to Run Largest Family Detention Center

According to Huffington Post, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) revised and renewed its' contract with a private company to keep operating the country's largest family detention center. 

ICE renewed the contract with Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) to run the South Texas Family Residential Center for another five years. The contract renewal comes after the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced they would phase out their use of private prisons. While this announcement did not affect immigrant detention centers, such as the South Texas Family Residential Center, it did cause the Department of Homeland Security to review whether ICE should follow through with the DOJ decision to phase out using private prison companies. 

Under the renewed contract CCA will receive less money to run the facility. However, CCA will receive payment regardless of how many beds are filled at their facility. The contract is scheduled to last until September of 2021, but ICE does have the option to cancel it with 60 days' notice.  

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Private prison bonds downgrade after Dept. of Justice announcement

The Bond Buyer reported that bonds for three privately-owned prisons in Texas had been downgraded to junk-status after the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it would be phasing out the use of private prisons. The Justice Department's announcement was a major factor in the downgrading of the bonds.

While the DOJ announcement only affects private prisons run by the federal Bureau of Prisons, the announcement has also led Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to order a review of the Department of Homeland Security’s reliance on private prisons. The announcement by Sec. Johnson has added more stress to high-level bonds that are used to build detention centers that detain immigrants.  

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The Brownsville Herald supports DHS review of private prisons

A Texas newspaper has come out in support of the Dept. of Homeland Security's (DHS) review of private prison contracts. The Brownsville Herald came out to say that they had called on Secretary Johnson and the DHS to review their private prison contracts, much like the Dept. of Justice did. The newspaper continued by saying: 

"We applaud Secretary Johnson for recognizing that failures in for-profit run prison facilities could also extend to for-profit immigration detention facilities, such as the large holding facilities in South Texas in Dilley and Karnes City.

We encourage the Homeland Security Advisory Council to investigate thoroughly all for-profit facilities operated under Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ensure they meet humanitarian standards and U.S. detention facility protocol. Charges by former immigrant detainees and numerous immigration advocacy groups that immigrant mothers in these for-profit facilities are denied access to their children, put in isolation, denied medical care or psychological help are disturbing and should not be condoned."

The paper then went on to invite the members Homeland Security Advisory Board, who will review private prison facilities and their contracts, to come to Texas to visit in person the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, which is run by Corrections Corporation of America, and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City run by the GEO Group.

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Shares in private prisons drop after DHS announces review

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will evaluate whether the agency should continue contracting with private corporations to run their immigrant detention facilities. According to Fortune, shares in both Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) and GEO Group both dropped after the announcement.

The evaluation of privately-run prisons comes following the Department of Justice's decision to phase out their use of private prisons. Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Sen. Raul Grijalva asked DHS in a letter earlier this week to end the practice of contracting with private-prison companies.

DHS to announce new reorganization plans; Will Mineral Wells move forward with Emerald's supposed ICE detention center?

Today, Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano and Immigration chief John Morton will announce the second phase of a reorganization of the ICE detention system.  While the details are still hazy, it looks like it may not be good news for the private prison industry.  According to the New York Times ("Ideas for Immigrant Detention Include Converting Hotels and Building Models, October 6) article on the announcement,

The Obama administration is looking to convert hotels and nursing homes into immigration detention centers and to build two model detention centers from scratch as it tries to transform the way the government holds people it is seeking to deport.

These and other initiatives, described in an interview on Monday by Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, are part of the administration’s effort to revamp the much-criticized detention system, even as it expands the enforcement programs that send most people accused of immigration violations to jails and private prisons. The cost, she said, would be covered by greater efficiencies in the detention and removal system, which costs $2.4 billion annually to operate and holds about 380,000 people a year.

It always makes me wary to hear about plans to fix detention system plans by building new detention facilities.  However, the move away from private prisons and county jail contracts could be a good thing.  It's too early to tell if the moves will include closing some of the large and controversial private prisons holding immigrant detainees such as MTC's Raymondville "Tent City." 

One thing is for certain, if I were a city in negotiations with a private prison company for a new 500 or 1,000 bed speculative ICE detention center, I may rethink my plans.  That's exactly where Mineral Wells is in its plans for a detention center operated by Emerald Corrections.  A first proposed speculative detention center was rejected earlier this year after public outcry.  Emerald has been in negotiations with the city on a second proposed site, and the city will vote later today on whether to continue those negotiations.  We'll keep you posted on developments. 

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