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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.

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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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Senators press Department of Homeland Security to stop family detention

A group of 17 Democratic senators called on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to end the practice of family detention, as reported by Mother Jones.

The group of senators, including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine, sent a letter to Sec. Johnson saying family detention is "wrong" and "should be ended immediately." They cited research showing how prolonged confinement can hurt children's physical and mental health. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has taken a similar position as her running mate, and called for an end to family detention.

There are currently three family detention centers in the United States, one in Pennsylvania and  two in Texas. These centers have a history of poor medical care, lack of legal access, and sexual assault.

 

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Judge extends temporary restraining order in family detention licensing lawsuit

Satsuki Ina speaks to the press before testifying at a DFPS hearing against the licensing.
In a May 13 court hearing, District Judge Karin Crump heard arguments on whether the state has authority to issue childcare licenses to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, according to a report from the Austin-American Statesman. 

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit — two detained mothers and advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership — asserted that the prison-like conditions of these family detention centers make them no place for children. Moreover, they argued that the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) cannot rewrite the rules to give itself power to regulate the facilities.

Four detained mothers testified Friday that after fleeing violence in their countries, instead of finding help they now feel incarcerated. They mentioned trouble sleeping because of guards entering their rooms every half hour, being served the same meals repeatedly, and children getting sick from water that tastes like chlorine.

One mother, identified as E.G.S., fleeing sexual violence in El Salvador, told the judge that her daughter had been sexually assaulted by another detained women while at the Karnes family detention camp.

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Texas grants child care license to Karnes family detention center

On Friday April 29, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) granted a license to the Karnes County Residential Center, a federal detention center for mothers and children operated by for-profit prison corporation GEO Group.

The Department of Homeland Security has been pursuing state licenses for the family detention centers in Karnes and Dilley since a federal ruling in August mandated that the children be released within two months from the facilities because they violated the terms of the Flores settlement, which stipulates that children in custody of federal immigration officials may not be held in secure, unlicensed facilities.

Texas’ decision to license the Karnes family detention center was accompanied by an outcry from immigrant rights advocates, who have turned out in force at several public hearings to oppose granting child care licenses to the detention centers.

Jonathan Ryan, executive director of San Antonio legal services provider RAICES, told the New York Times, “If you want a child care facility, you don’t contract with a for-profit prison company.”

Patrick Crimmins, a spokesperson for DFPS, said that the temporary license is valid for six months. During this time, the agency will conduct three unannounced inspections of the detention center, and grant a permanent license if the facility meets required standards.

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Feds tell NBC family detention changes are confirmed, Karnes to hold fathers and children

The Department of Homeland Security is going to change the Karnes family detention center from a mother and child lockup to one for fathers and their children, according to an NBC News report.

NBC reports:

"Multiple government sources confirmed that the Department of Homeland Security intends to transition immigrant women and children out of the Karnes County Family Residential Center in Texas. The facility would instead detain male heads of household and their young children."

The first indication of this change came when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldaña told a congressional committee of the plans last month.

The change comes at a time when the Obama Administration’s policy of family detention is in flux. The same NBC News report also noted that the numbers of women and children detained in both Texas family detention centers are low, despite the facilities being built to hold thousands.

Meanwhile, the fight over state-issued child care licenses for family detention continues, with immigrant and child advocates calling for anyone opposed to granting child care licenses to speak up at a public hearing at the Karnes County Correctional Center (KCCC), a separate facility from the family detention lockup that is also operated located in Karnes City and operated by the GEO Group.

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Family detention centers can move forward with child care licensing despite outcry

University of Texas alumni staged a sit-in at the office of the dean at the McCombs school of business in Austin during a protest to end family detention in 2014.
University of Texas alumni staged a sit-in at the office of the dean at the McCombs school of business in Austin during a protest to end family detention in 2014.
Last month the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), approved a proposed rule that would allow the licensing of family detention centers as a child care facilities to move forward. But the outcry against the decision has only increased.

The move is widely understood to allow the facilities remain open after Judge Dolly Gee’s 2015 ruling said the federal government could not hold children in secure, unlicensed facilities. Immigration and child welfare advocates oppose the licensing of the facilities and say the state is lowering child care standards.

The Austin Chronicle reported on some of the reactions to the news:

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ICE director says changes are coming to Karnes family detention facility

The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mid-September 2014.
The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mid-September 2014.
The head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told members of Congress on Thursday that the immigrant family detention center in Karnes County, Texas will be converted to an all-male facility, adding “possibly with children.”

The Guardian reported the exchange between Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-California and ICE Director Sarah Saldaña:

During a House appropriations committee hearing Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard asked the ICE director, Sarah Saldaña: “is it possible that ICE will stop using Karnes and Dilley [another facility] for families in [fiscal year 2017]?” “Well, we’re pretty much there on the decision on Karnes,” Saldaña responded. “We are probably going to convert that into – our plans are to convert that into – an adult male, perhaps with children, facility. Not a family facility as it is now, with largely women.”

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Debate continues on controversial effort to license family detention centers as child-care facilities

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether to license two federal family detention camps in the south Texas towns of Karnes and Dilley. In November 2015, Grassroots Leadership won an injunction that prohibited the state from passing an emergency rule to license the centers and mandated that the public be given an opportunity to comment on the licensing. At the public hearing held on December 9, more than 40 people testified against licensing including legal service providers, immigrant rights groups, faith leaders, and a former psychologist at the Karnes family detention camp. Over 1000 people also submitted written comments to TDFPS in opposition to the licensing.

Lawsuit halts licensing of private family detention centers as childcare facilities, at least for now

CCA's family detention center in Dilley
CCA's family detention center in Dilley
A lawsuit filed by Grassroots Leadership (my organization, and a co-sponsor of Texas Prison Bid'ness) won a temporary injunction on November 20th that halts the Texas' Department of Family and Protective Services from licensing two large, for-profit detention centers in South Texas as childcare facilities.  Private prison corporations Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group are seeking the licenses for the prisons in Dilley and Karnes City respectively in order to comply with a finding by Federal Judge Dolly Gee that detaining children in unlicensed, secure detention centers violates a decades old settlement known as Flores.   

250th District Judge Karin Crump ruled that the state had errered in issuing and emergency that allowed the agency to license the facilities without interested parties, including Grassroots Leadership, being able to comment on the licensure rule.  The state has now issued a proposed permanent rule on the licensing that allows public comment before December 13th.  

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