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Sexual abuse, extortion, and harassment of women alleged at ICE family detention camp in Karnes City

The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mis-September 2014.
The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mis-September 2014.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), along with Immigration Rights and Civil Rights Clinics at the University of Texas Law School, Human Rights First, and the Law Office of Javier N. Maldonado, filed a complaint on September 30, 2014 with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demanding the immediate investigation of and swift response to widespread allegations of sexual abuse and harassment at the detention center in Karnes City.

In a press release about the complaint, MALDEF outlined the abuse allegations cited in the complaint to include the exploitation of vulnerable women by facility guards and staff, such as:

removing female detainees from their cells late in the late evening and early morning hours for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts in various parts of the facility, and attempting to cover up these actions;

calling detainees their "novias," or "girlfriends" and requesting sexual favors from female detainees in exchange for money, promises of assistance with their pending immigration cases, and shelter when and if the women are released; and

kissing, fondling and/or groping female detainees in front of other detainees, including children.

The MALDEF release also says that "although this unlawful conduct was reported to Karnes Center personnel, to date, no reasonable actions have been taken to stop or prevent this abuse, or to prevent its escalation."

The GEO Group denied the allegations and ICE had no comment

CCA rumored to be getting back into immigrant family detention in South Texas

Dilley, Texas will be the site of a massive for-profit immigrant family detention center.
Dilley, Texas will be the site of a massive for-profit immigrant family detention center.
The Texas Observer reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are planning a massive new family detention center for immigrant families near San Antonio and that representatives of Corrections Corporation of America have already met with local government officials and landowners about it.

The faciltiy would sit on a 50-acre site just outside the town of Dilley, 70 miles southwest of San Antonio. The property is part of Sendero Ranch, a “workforce housing community,” more commonly called a “man camp,” for oilfield workers. Sendero Ranch is owned by Koontz McCombs, a commercial real estate firm.

Frio County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Flores told the Observer that local officials had recently met with CCA. Loren Gulley, vice president for Koontz McCombs, said the company is still negotiating but CCA is expected to run the detention center.

ICE is calling the yet-to-be-built 2,400-bed facility the  “South Texas Family Detention Center.” 

The detention center would be the third family detention center set up this summer in response to children and families from Central America fleeing to the Texas-Mexico border. The first was in Artesia, New Mexcio, and is run by ICE. The second was opened in Karnes City, Texas, last month and is operated by for-profit, private prison company the GEO Group. 

CCA is not new to family detention. CCA operated the notorious T. Don Hutto family detention center until 2009, when the Obama Administration removed families from the facilities amid outcry and lawsuits over the conditions inside. Reports emerged that children as young as eight months old wore prison uniforms, lived in locked prison cells with open-toilets, were subjected to highly restricted movement, and threatened with alarming disciplinary tactics, including threats of separation from their parents if they cried too much or played too loudly. Medical treatment was inadequate and children as young as one lost weight.  

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As family detention begins at Karnes, T. Don Hutto is the site of a protest

About 40 women and children arrived the morning of August 1 at the Karnes County detention center near San Antonio. Another bus was expected that afternoon. 

GEO protest sign
GEO protest sign

The Karnes detention center is operated by the GEO Group, a for-profit private prison company that was recently the target of hunger strikes by immigrant detainees in its custody three times in two facilities this year. The Karnes County detention center was was swiftly emptied of its current occupants to make way for women and children who have fled Central America. 

The newly-converted family detention center can house up to 532 people at a cost of $140 a day, according to the Houston Chronicle. 

Enrique Lucero, field office director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the Chronicle that while each case will vary, officials are planning an average stay of 23 days per family, underlining concerns raised by many attorneys that due process for those seeking asylum is being undermined. Lucero also admitted to USA Today that the family detention and deportation were being used to send a message. "After your immediate detention and due process, there's every likelihood you'll be returned to your country," Lucero said. 

KSAT San Antonio reports that there were no protestors at Karnes as the first buses arrived. However, the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor did see protestors on Saturday, August 9. The protest commemorated the 5th anniversary of the end of family detention at the T. Don Hutto detention center. About 50 people lined the street across from the detention center to protest, play music and screen a film about the practice of family detention. 

The protestors there vowed to go to Karnes next. 

Two buses are expected to arrive at Karnes daily, with a total of about 75 more women and children expected every day for the coming weeks.

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ICE: Hutto to stop detaining families; no new family detention centers

It's all the news today; CCA's notorious T. Don Hutto detention center will stop holding immigrant families.  According to the New York Times ("U.S. to Reform Policy on Detention for Immigrants," August 6th)

"[T]he government will stop sending families to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a former state prison near Austin, Tex., that drew an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit and scathing news coverage for putting young children behind razor wire. ...

The decision to stop sending families there - and to set aside plans for three new family detention centers - is the Obama administration's clearest departure from its predecessor's immigration enforcement policies."

Although the facility will continue to hold immigrant women, this is a huge victory for the movement to end family detention as it substantially shrinks the immigrant family detention system, and takes the new family detention centers off the table.  We'll have more updates in the coming days, but in the meantime check out the T. Don Hutto blog or these sources:

"Just-Unveiled Immigration Detention Policies Are Excellent First Step," Women's Refugee Commission, August 6th

"Hutto detention center to change direction," Austin American-Statesman, August 6th

"Feds begin immigration detention makeover" Associated Press, August 6th

Saturday: World Refugee Day protest at CCA's T. Don Hutto detention center

Corrections Corporation of America's controversial T. Don Hutto immigrant family detention center in Taylor, Texas will be the target of a march, vigil, and protest concert this weekend in conjunction with World Refugee Day. 

National organizations Amnesty International and the League of United Latin American Citizens will join a host of Texas groups including my organization Grassroots Leadership what should be the largest protest at Hutto since the World Refugee Day vigil in 2007. 

JUNE 19: Live Music Fundraiser: Dragon Rojo, Karma, Bajo Influencia, DJ Murdock, DJ Victima. Show starts a 8pm at the Twin Palms (214 Anderson Lane, Austin, Tx). Suggested Donation: $3. For more information, call Matt (512.669.9968) or Omar (469-396-7815).

JUNE 20: March and Vigil at T. Don Hutto.  Please join us for a vigil in Taylor, Texas, to honor World Refugee Day June 20th. The vigil is being organized by a coalition that includes Williamson County residents, the Border Ambassadors, Amnesty International, and the national chapter of LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens). For more information, please contact Jay J. Johnson-Castro Sr. (830)-734-8636; jay at villadelrio dot com.

Noon: Meet at Heritage Park, 4th and Main Street, Taylor, Texas.*
1 pm: Walk from Heritage Park to T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center.*
2-4 pm: Vigil at TDH, including music and speakers.

More information, including an impressive list of vigil endorsers, is available at the T. Don Hutto blog

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Proposed Raymondville Family Detention Center Being Pushed by Prison Developer

While we've reported that one of the three new family detention centers proposed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement may end up in Raymondville, I hadn't seen this Valley Morning Story until recently. The story provides more details on the proposed Raymondville lock-up,

City officials are considering a proposal to build a 200-bed, $30 million detention center to hold illegal immigrant families.

Raymondville city commissioners sent a letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to support a plan to build the detention center, City Manager Eleazar Garcia said Wednesday. "We haven't committed ourselves to anything yet, except we're interested and would like to know more about it," Garcia said.

Since the mid-1990s, Willacy County has built prisons and a detention center in the Raymondville industrial park. Already there are a 1,000-bed state prison, a 500-bed county prison, a 96-bed county jail and a 3,000-bed illegal immigrant detention center, the largest in the United States.

We've reported in the past on Raymondville's growing dependence on immigrant detention beds to survive economically. We've also reported that prisons do not create long-term economic growth, and that prison towns tend to scare away more beneficial industries. Of course, there are those that stand to benefit from a new detention center in Raymondville - prison developers and private prison operaters.

According to the article, one of those is Michael Harling of Municipal Capital Markets Group.

Michael Harling of Municipal Capital Markets Group in Dallas, which would work to finance the project, said it would create 200 jobs. Harling called the city to ask if officials would consider the project, Garcia said.

"They asked if the city would be supportive of putting it in the industrial park," Garcia said. The city would sell bonds to fund construction of the project, Harling said.

Federal revenue derived from holding illegal immigrants would pay off the bonds, Harling said. Garcia said the detention center would allow illegal immigrant parents to be housed with their children.

"It's not a detention center," Harling said. "It's a facility for holding families, for holding people who have not committed crimes."

I certainly find it interesting and more than a little disturbing that a prison financier - someone who makes their money off the floating of bonds to build prisons - is the one who is acting as the spokesperson for the policy of detaining children and their families.

We'll keep you updated on developments on ICE's three new proposed family detention centers.

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