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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."

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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.

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.   

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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.’”

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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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