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As Hurricane Harvey approaches, ICE abandons over 50 women & children at a bus station

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) abandoned about 50 immigrant women and children at a bus station in San Antonio, reports the Rivard Report.

 

The 50 women and children were all Central Americans who had come to the U.S. seeking asylum. Once they arrived to the U.S. border, they were taken to family detention centers while their asylum cases were processed. These private detention centers are run by for-profit corporations, who contract with ICE to operate the facilities. ICE ordered the women taken to the bus station in San Antonio on Friday as Hurricane Harvey made its approach to the Texas coast. Due to the weather advisory caused by Hurricane Harvey, all buses from the station were cancelled, leaving the women and children abandoned in worsening conditions.

 

The Interfaith Welcome Coalition of San Antonio contacted various non-profits in the area, who helped find a church that welcomed in the women and children. Congressman Lloyd Doggett also spoke with ICE, saying "This is all really unacceptable. We need greatly improved communication and more attention to genuine humanitarian concerns."

 

This was not the only mishap by immigration officials in Texas as they responded to Hurricane Harvey. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) announced before the hurricane that they would be leaving their checkpoints north of the border open, leading to an increase of fear for individuals fleeing from Hurricane Harvey.

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Settlement reached with ICE over medical evaluations

A settlement has been reached between immigration officials and pro bono attorneys regarding medical evaluations at the Dilley family detention center, Texas, reports the San Antonio Express.

 

The lawsuit, filed in June, was from the Dilley Pro Bono Project, which works to provide legal services to women and children detained in Dilley, Texas. The lawsuit stated that a legal assistant was barred from visiting detainees at the detention center. ICE barred the legal assistant after they set up a telephonic medical evaluation for one of their clients. ICE policy states that medical evaluations must be approved at least 24 hours before the evaluation.

 

The settlement requires ICE to more quickly make decisions in regards to allowing medical evaluations, and limits when ICE can deny medical providers access to the detention center in Dilley, as well as the other family detention center in Karnes County, Texas.

 

This is not the first time ICE has limited attorney access to women and children detained in Dilley. Attorneys were denied access in 2015 after they lodged a series of complaints over due process violations. It is also vital that medical providers are given full access to the centers, since ICE has denied care to a young girl with cancer locked up at a family detention center in the past.  

Family detention centers receive good reports—what did they miss?

Two South Texas family detention centers have received good marks from the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Inspector General, reports the San Antonio Express.

 

The report was done in response to criticism by RAICES, a San Antonio non-profit that works with families in the two detention centers, and other groups who said sexual assaults inside  go unpunished and the detainees are treated poorly. Advocates said that the centers provide inadequate medical care, lack services for families who speak languages other than of Spanish, and that they hold children in jail-like conditions.

 

The report stated that medical care was readily available at the centers, though one of the facilities does not have a pediatrician. The report did not state which facility it was, though because both centers detain children, each should have a pediatrician available. It is questionable if health care is readily available, as there is currently a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stating they interfered with telemedicine procedures at the South Texas Detention Center in Dilley, Texas. Telemedicine is a way for prisoners to undergo medical evaluations on the phone.  

 

In September of last year, the Department of Justice was urged to look into violations of the American with Disabilities Act at the Karnes Detention Center when it was discovered that the school in the prison was inaccessible to students or others with mobility impairments. ICE also banned crayons after a detained child "destroyed property" by accidentally coloring on a table while their parent received legal advice.

 

This report comes six months after a DHS Advisory Committee recommended the end of DHS's policy on family detention.

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ICE interfering with medical evaluations

A lawsuit has been filed against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on behalf of immigrants detained at the Dilley family detention center, reports the San Antonio Express.

 

The lawsuit stated that a legal assistant with the Dilley Pro Bono Project was barred from meeting detainees at the detention center in Dilley, which is operated by CoreCivic, one of the nation’s largest private prison companies. The legal assistant had set up a telephonic medical evaluation without ICE's permission, after which they barred her from visiting.

 

ICE's policy required lawyers to get permission at least 24 hours in advance for medical evaluations. The lawsuit stated that policy interfered with the Pro Bono Project's ability to adequately represent their clients.

Texas family detention centers violate federal law by holding families for too long

Family detention centers in Texas are violating federal law for holding minors in detention, reports the Associated Press.

 Some families have been detained in detention centers for more than six months, even after Texas lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would license family detention centers as child care facilities. The passage of the bill would have opened the door for families to be detained for longer periods of time.

 Today, the AP reports that maximum time minors are supposed to be detained is 20 days, though many families are detained for much longer than that. Amy Fischer, policy director for RAICES, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, works with detained families and knows of at least seven families who have been held over the 20-day mark.

 Advocates against family detention say that 20-day stays violate federal law. A court ruling in 2015 said minors could not be detained for more than three days unless there are surges in immigration. Currently, the number of people crossing the border is at a low point.

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A mother locked up in family detention attempts suicide in bid to have children released

A mother detained in a family detention center attempted suicide, reports the Huffington Post.

Samira Hakimi of Afghanistan has been detained at both the Dilley family detention center and the Karnes family detention center with her two young children. Hakimi passed her credible fear interview, an important first step in the asylum process. Normally an individual would be freed so they can continue their case in immigration court. However, Hakimi and her family are still detained and ICE has given no reason as to why. Hakimi's sister-in-law is also detained in Karnes with her 10-month-old baby.

 Hakimi has been suffering from clinical depression due to being detained for months, and felt particularly low when her son asked her why some families were leaving but they were not.

 Amy Fisher, policy director at RAICES, a non-profit focused on providing legal aid to families in detention, said, "She was crying and really depressed. And she went into this thought process, when she was really low, thinking, ‘Well, if I’m no longer here, maybe my children can be free.’" Children cannot be held in family detention without a family member or guardian.

 Following her suicide attempt, Hakimi woke up in the medical center at Karnes and was then taken to a nearby hospital. Staff from the detention center gave her medicine but did not give a reason as to what the medicine was or the purpose of it. Hakimi did not know what the medicine was, and RAICES is currently requesting her medical records.

 Dr. Luis Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas, has interviewed countless individuals in detention and documented the effects of detention on children. “This is what happens when people get desperate,” Zayas said. “This woman is suffering a mental health crisis. But we know where it’s coming from. We know what we can do to stop it.”

 Dr. Zayas is right. We know what we can do to stop it. We must end family detention.

 

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Family detention centers are mostly empty — so why license them?

According to KUT, the two family detention centers in South Texas are mostly empty, leaving immigration judges who had been relocated to the centers with nothing to do.

Due to a low number of people being detained at the border, the number of individuals in the two family detention centers in Texas has dropped dramatically. Between the two facilities, there are only a few hundred people detained. The two facilities have a total capacity of more than 3,000.

Another reason for the low numbers is due to a federal ruling that stated that children could not be held in a secure, jail-like facility. To comply with the ruling, Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the federal agency that contracts with the family detention centers — must release the children and their mothers in a short amount of time.

To bypass that decision, Texas State lawmakers this year proposed a bill that would allow the state to license this family detention camps as child care facilities. This bill, if signed into law, would be used to circumvent the ruling that an Austin-area judge made in a lawsuit but forth by immigrant families and allies against the licensing.   

The question is, why license the centers? There are less people being detained at the border, so there is less need for these detention centers. The answer is simple.

Money.

By being able to license these family detention centers as childcare facilities, the private prison companies who operate would be able to detain mothers and children for longer periods of time.

Most contracts between private prison companies have a clause written in them where they receive a daily sum for each person detained in their facilities. If the detention centers were licensed, it would extend the amount of time each individual is detained, meaning more money for the private prison companies. The author of the proposed bill admitted that the bill was authored by the GEO Group, one of two private prison companies that operate family detention centers in Texas. This shows that money, not looking out for the well-being of mothers and children, is what really drives legislation in Texas.

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Proposed legislation would provide state license to immigrant family detention centers

Karnes County Detention Center
State lawmakers in Austin have proposed a bill that would allow the state of Texas to license two family detention centers near San Antonio as childcare facilities, reports the San Antonio Express

Since the two facilities hold both adults and children, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) wouldn't license the facilities when they opened in 2014 following a large influx of Central America families seeking asylum in the US. In 2015, a federal judge ruled that family detention centers, such as those in Karnes City and Dilley, were not allowed to hold families for extended periods of time because the centers were not licensed and the families could not leave.

Following the ruling, the Department of Family and Protective Services made an emergency rule change which allowed it to license the facilities, leading to a lawsuit by immigrant families who had been detained in those facilities. A judge in Austin then ruled that the state did not have the power to inspect and license family detention center with action in the Texas Legislature. 

Identical bills in the Texas Senate and House would allow DFPS to license family detention centers, allowing mothers and children to be detained in jail-like conditions for extended period of times. It would also give the department permission to exempt the family detention facilities from the state rules governing child care facilities. Though the facilities have classrooms and play-areas, the American Academy of Pediatrics has outlined many negative aspects of family detention, and stated the facilities are "inappropriate for children and don’t meet basic needs or standards of child care". The two facilities in Texas are both operated by for-profit prison companies who would see an increase in profit if the bill passed, as it would allow them to detain mothers and children for extended periods of time. The Karnes City facility is owned and operated by the GEO Group, while the facility in Dilley is owned by CoreCivic.   

 

Immigration quietly increasing number of migrant families detained

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has quietly been increasing the number of migrant families in their detention facilities in South Texas, reports The Monitor.

The number of migrants who are processed through ICE and released locally has dropped significantly, according to the Sacred Heart Immigrant Respite Center in McAllen. Less than a month ago the center saw around 300 migrants a day, with the center now averaging about 90 people per day. People from the respite center and RAICES believe that the number is based off of the number of beds available in Karnes or Dilley family detention centers, which hold primarily Central American mothers and their children seeking asylum.

Last December, a judge in Austin ruled that the two facilities could not be licensed as child care facilities. During the time of the ruling, there were about 1,700 people in Dilley and 600 in Karnes. RAICES, which provide pro bono legal services at the two centers, said the numbers are now closer to 2,000 in Karnes and 700 in Dilley.

A temporary Customs and Border Protection processing center near the Donna-Rio Bravo Port of Entry may also increase the number of migrants ICE can process. By adding an additional processing center, ICE has another facility to process individuals arriving at the border before they are transferred to a different, permanent detention center. This processing center adds to the 12 detention centers already located south of San Antonio. These, like Karnes and Dilly, are operated by for-profit prison companies that contract with the U.S. government.

 

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County Judge says family detention center is still an option

The application for a family detention center in San Diego is still pending, despite a court ruling against the state licensing family detention centers as child care facilities, reported Caller-Times of Corpus Christi.

Duval County Commissioners voted in July to begin contract negotiations with Serco, a UK-based private prison company, to turn an old nursing home facility into a family detention center. This decision came about after Jim Wells County decided against entering into a contract with Serco over the nursing facility, which sits in both Jim Wells and Duval counties.

The contract from Duval County is still pending following the court decision by District Judge Karin Crump that invalidates the rule that Texas Department of Family and Protective Services used to license family detention facilities as child care facilities. This decision impacts the  South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, and the Karnes County family detention. These facilities are operated by the private prison companies CoreCivic (formerly CCA), and GEO Group, respectively.

Following the decision last week, both facilities released hundreds of immigrant women and children over the weekend, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials denied that the court ruling was the reason. County officials said that the recent release of families from other family detention centers in Texas, located in Dilley and Karnes, will not affect Duval County’s application to open a family detention center in San Diego.

"The only news we have is that our application is still being considered," said Duval County Judge Ricardo Carrillo. "No timetable was given to us this time."

 

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