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.
A recent NPR story, As Asylum Seekers Swap Prison Beds For Ankle Bracelets, Same Firm Profits, shed light on a new profiteering industry for private prison companies, community detention. No stranger to Texas Prison Bid’ness, GEO Group is one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S. and operates 15 federal migrant detention centers, many of which detain children and families. In a new kind of federal surveillance, families are being released from these facilities, but are required to wear tracking devices and remain closely monitored. Who is conveniently positioned to provide the tracking devices and community supervision? Geo Care, a subsidiary of GEO Group.
Geo Care received a $56 million contract to provide ankle monitoring services for 10,000 migrants and telephone check-ins for 20,000 migrants. In addition, in September ICE awarded Geo Care an $11 million contract to provide case management services to migrants who have been released.
ICE clarified why Geo Care was selected to run the program instead of a social service entity usually responsible for case management. "...We really aim to ensure that there's a wide variety of different tools that we can use for compliance," says ICE assistant director Lorenzen-Strait. Disturbingly, the manager for Geo Care's new Family Case Management Program is a former top official in ICE's Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations.
Job descriptions of GEO Family Case Managers and Sr. Case Managers confirm ICE’s intent. It is clear that first and foremost, “case managers” are community detention officers, whose primary role is to monitor the lives of released migrants. Job description duties include:
“Conducts regular and on-going monitoring of family participants through in-person check-ins (e.g., home or office visits) and telephonic reporting. At a minimum, check-ins must be done prior to any appointment, hearing, or other immigration required obligation. Conducts additional check-ins as needed to promote compliance with immigration requirements.”
Although alternatives to detention offer opportunities for families to be released, this “freedom” comes with continued surveillance and control, and private prison companies continue to make millions.
On Monday June 22 and Tuesday June 23, eight Democratic House members will visit two Texas family detention centers, the GEO-operated Karnes County Residential Center outside of San Antonio, and CCA-operated South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. The House members announced their trip and expressed concern over the Obama Administration's family detention policy in a press conference held last Thursday.
"It is not illegal to apply for asylum. It is the law of the land," said Rep. Gutierrez.
"Detaining children puts them at risk of mental and developmental problems," said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. "The people in these detention centers are...the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free of which Emma Lazarus spoke and which is emblazoned on our Statue of Liberty."
The members who will be touring the detention centers are: Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-05), Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), Rep. Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40). They are among the 136 House Democrats who signed a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson calling for an end to family detention.
Negotiations between immigrant rights and government attorneys have been extended for another week in what been known as "the Flores case" after parties were unable to reach an agreement based on Judge Dolly Gee's preliminary decision.
As previously reported, some advocates believe that this litigation could cause dramatic changes to, or even end, the government's current policy of detaining asylum-seeking mothers and children while their cases proceed through immigration courts.
The outcome of these negotiations could determine the future of three family detention facilities, which together have the capacity to detain more than 3,000 individuals. These include two for-profit facilities in Texas: the Karnes County Residential Center run by the GEO Group, and the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley run by Corrections Corporation of America.
The new deadline set for reporting on the Flores Settlement negotiations is July 3.