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Immigrant prison in Texas making kids sick, Human Rights group calls for end to family detention

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In a blog published on November 22, Human Rights First reported prevalent medical neglect in South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas operated by private prison corporation CoreCivic. The blog highlights the multiple medical issues that children and their parents experience with minimal access to services while in detention, as well as long-term health consequences to their incarceration.

Eleni Bakst spent a week visiting children and speaking with their parents in Dilley. “I learned that many of these children were also vomiting and experiencing diarrhea multiple times per day, had high fevers, and conjunctivitis,” she wrote. “Others had developed rashes as a result of drinking the tap water, which has reportedly been contaminated due to fracking in the area. Many local residents and visitors do not drink it.”

Bakst reported numerous women’s complaints about the negligent medical care in detention, including doctors “prescribing water instead of medicine” and “illogical and incorrect diagnoses” when patients came with illnesses. Women also reported their fear to report a complaint about the insufficient care in fear of negative consequences for their legal cases.

Bakst reported one story that exemplifies the unreasonable responses of medical professionals in detention:

“One mother told me her four-year-old daughter had lost eight pounds in detention over the last two to three weeks as a result of persistent vomiting and diarrhea, combined with high fever, rashes, and coughing. The clinician at the detention center diagnosed her vomiting as bulimia, claiming that this was common among young children at the center who are not accustomed to eating the type of food they provided. This girl’s mother, understandably taken aback by this diagnosis, did not return to the clinic, knowing that it would be futile.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a letter to the former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson in 2015 stating that family detention of mothers and children “puts them at greater risk for physical and mental health problems and unnecessarily exposes children and mothers to additional psychological trauma.”

The recent actions of the Trump administration to terminate the Flores Settlement could open up the potential for long-term detention of families, making medical issues “more concerning than ever” from the conditions reported by Human Rights First.

Building on research from previous years, the report issued by Human Rights First in November 2015, “Family Detention Still Happening, Still Damaging,” features research on the experiences of women and children in detention. Their investigation highlighted the stories of 30 women in South Texas Family Residential Center detained with their families: “All of these mothers reported some combination of troubling symptoms, including high levels of hypervigilance, sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, and insomnia. A majority presented with symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder, and Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia).”

Advocates have denounced family detention as an inhumane practice that profits from the violation of families’ rights. In Texas, a long legislative battle of 2016 led to advocates preventing the licensing of family detention centers as child care facilities. They have been criticized for violating federal law by holding families too long, among a number of other failures to provide adequate education, health care, and legal services.

For further information on medical neglect in South Texas Family Residential Center impacting pregnant women, see our blog from October 2017: “Pregnant Women Seeking Asylum Detained, Women Miscarried in ICE Facilities” and more Texas Prison Bid’ness coverage of Dilley.

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Pregnant Women Seeking Asylum Detained, Women Miscarried in ICE Facilities

An article by The Nation (October 12, 2017) investigates the stories of asylum seekers detained while pregnant by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Nation reports that women have been denied medical care, leading to health complications including miscarriages.

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In September, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Women’s Refugee Commission filed a complaint that ICE has detained pregnant women against its own policy. In August 2016, the acting director of the agency Thomas Homan issued a memorandum stating that “pregnant women will generally not be detained” except under “extraordinary circumstances or the requirement of mandatory detention.” Despite this policy, the complaint filed by the ACLU and Women’s Refugee Commission cites 292 pregnant women were detained in the first four months of 2017, a notable 35 percent increase from the same period last year.

The article details the case of Jennye Pagoada López, who states she was denied medical care during detention and suffered a miscarriage after six days. The Department of Homeland Security has yet to respond to the complaint filed on behalf Pagoada and nine other women, six of whom were detained in privately run detention facilities in Texas.

The filed complaint includes the testimonies of five women who were detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center (STFRC) in Dilley, Texas, a family detention center operated by CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America or CCA), and one woman detained at Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, Texas operated by GEO Group.

Ana, a 28-year-old woman from Honduras, wrote when she was in STFRC:

It is very difficult for me to be detained here with my son while I am pregnant. It is hard for me to get around because I am not feeling well and my son is too heavy for me to carry. I feel that I need to be living where my family can assist me. I am very concerned about the health of my baby because there are a lot of people here and many viruses, including the flu and diarrhea. Being detained and preparing for a credible fear [interview] has also been very stressful for me, which I feel is dangerous for my baby. In order to prepare for my credible fear interview with a CARA [the pro bono legal service organization at STRFC] legal assistant, I have had to discuss my history of sexual abuse and domestic violence in detail.

Katy Murdza of the CARA Pro Bono Project has worked at the Dilley family detention center for four months. According to her interview with The Nation, until recently most pregnant women were released from the border to live with family or friends before appearing before an immigration judge at a later date. The article details numerous stresses that pregnant women in detention face, as women are “fleeing torture, abuse, or rape (and in some cases learn in detention that their rape resulted in pregnancy); some are trying to care for their children who are also struggling with detention and recent trauma; some have miscarried in the past because of stress or depression, and now fear a repeat due to their current circumstances; and there is little rest, since detainees are sharing rooms with so many people, many of whom are sick.”

The Nation reports that according to an ICE spokesperson, the August 2016 memorandum remains current policy, meaning that pregnant women will not be detained barring “extraordinary circumstances.” Given changes in enforcement priorities under the Trump Administration, however, advocates see that pregnant women remain unprotected according to current practice.

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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.  

Immigration shuts down alternative to detention program for asylum seekers

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is shutting down a program designed as an alternative to detention for asylum, reports KristTV.

 The Family Case Management Program  was an alternative to detaining families in detention centers, two of which are located in Texas. There were 630 families enrolled as of April 19. The program connected asylum seeking families to social workers who helped participants find lawyers, get housing and healthcare, and helped them navigate the immigration court system. The women who are eligible for the program, or who were previously enrolled, can be expected to wear ankle monitors, which have been reported to cause bruising and ostracism.

 Ann Schlarb, an executive with the GEO Group, the private prison company that contracted with ICE operate the program, wrote that families in the program have thrived, and that 99% of families successfully attended court appearances and ICE check-ins. So why end such a successful program?

 When asked about shutting down the program, an ICE spokesperson said, "By discontinuing [family case management], ICE will save more than $12 million a year — money which can be utilized for other programs which more effectively allow ICE to discharge its enforcement and removal responsibilities."

 If money is the motivator, why close down a program that cost the government $36 a day compared to the cost of maintaining a family detention bed, which costs $319 a day? Alternatives to family detention that don’t subject people to wearing ankle monitors are real. They are successful and cost-effective.

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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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Private prison's scheme to license baby jails fails in Texas

Karnes County Civil Detention Center
A proposal written by a private prison company to license baby jails as child care facilities has failed, according to a press release from Grassroots Leadership.

The proposal was written to bypass a ruling by an Austin-area judge in a lawsuit filed by immigrant families saying Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) could not license the family detention centers as child care facilities. If the bills to license had passed, they would have resulted in the prolonged detention of families at two family detention centers in Texas —  the South Texas Residential Center and the Karnes County Residential Center. These facilities are operated by two private prison companies, CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America) and the GEO Group respectively.

Dilley family detention camp

The passage of this law would have been a boon to private prison companies, as evident by these companies paying lobbyists $480,000 to advocate for their interests to the Texas legislature.

Representative John Raney, a Republican who authored the House version of the bill, even admitted that the legislation came directly from a GEO lobbyist.

"I've known the lady who's their lobbyist for a long time ...That's where the legislation came from," said state Rep. John Raney, a Republican from the rural town of Bryan. "We don't make things up. People bring things to us and ask us to help."

In a legislative session where racism and bigotry won most of the time, having this bill die was a welcome, positive result.

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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New family detention center no longer being considered

A family detention center in San Diego, Texas, is no longer being considered as local officials cite low apprehensions at the border, reports the Caller-Times.

Last July, Duval County Commissioners voted to begin contract negotiations with Serco to turn an old nursing home into a family detention center. Serco, a UK-based private prison company, tried to negotiate with Jim Wells County to use the same nursing home, which is located in both Duval and Jim Wells County. The negotiation with Jim Wells failed following backlash from the community, leading to Serco reaching out to Duval County about the proposed facility.

In an email to the Caller-Times, Duval County Judge Ricardo Carrillo, who supported the work with Serco, stated: "Serco informed me back on Feb. 28 that after several meetings with (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials, the news is that they (the government) are not planning to move out on the family residential center approach at this time because ‘apprehensions are at an all-time low level.’”

While this is a welcome win to prevent more family detention centers, it comes at a time when Texas state lawmakers are considering bills to allow the state to license family detention centers as child care facilities. The state was unable to license the facilities following a ruling by Judge Karin Crump saying the state did not have the authority to license immigrant family detention centers. The ruling was praised by immigrant families and immigrant rights advocates who oppose the policy of family detention. The Texas Attorney General is appealing that decision now.

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ICE bans Crayons at Karnes County Residential Center

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is restricting young children in an immigrant detention center from playing with crayons, reports the Guardian.   

The restriction comes after staff members at the Karnes County Residential Center accused the children of destruction of property. A spokeswoman for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) said the detention center staff enforced the ban after accusing children of damaging a table while their parent received legal advice. In a statement, ICE said that the children caused property damage to the contractor.

Karnes County Residential Center is operated by GEO Group, a for-profit prison corporation. Since last November, GEO has made over $57 million from the center, as reported by the San Antonio Current.

A spokesperson from GEO said that crayons were allowed in other sectors of the facility, but not in the visitation area. However, some parents are already noticing the difference in their children from not being able to use crayons during visitation. One 23-year-old detained mother said banning her children from drawing with crayons was already having an adverse effect.

"They are too young to read and if they just play can get too rowdy. We don’t always want them with us because some of the things we share we don’t want them to hear,” the mother said.

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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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