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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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Former GEO Employee found guilty of sexual abuse

In April, Juan Aguilar, a former GEO employee was charged with sexual abuse of a detainee. The victim of the abuse was being detained at Pearsall during his deportation proceedings. The two men were working in the kitchen when Aguilar pulled down the detainee's pants off and performed fellatio on him in the freezer.

On Wednesday, a jury took just over an hour to find Aguilar guilty, and he is nowawaiting his sentence. Aguilar’s lawyer reportedly argued that he had no authority over the inmate and that the act was “wrong but not a crime,” and likened it to someone having an extra-marital affair — morally wrong but not illegal. However, the law in Texas is clear that sex between inmates and employees is absolutely illegal.

This is not the first time that the GEO Group, and specifically the detention center in Pearsall, has been involved in a sexual abuse scandal.

No GEO for McAllen, says City Commission

Last night, the city commission of McAllen, Texas officially rejected GEO Group's bid to build a private jail. GEO, a Boca Raton, Florida-based company, was the only bidder for the private prision contract.  The proposal stated that a private company would build and operate the facility on property owned by the city.

The city of McAllen would have expanded its existing contract with the U.S. Marshals service, and the private company would in turn pay McAllen a portion of the government's daily per-inmate payment. According to city commissioner Scott Crane, the jail could have generated $3 million to $5 million annually for McAllen. 

Victor Rodriguez, the city's police chief, advised that the city reject the bid. Rodriguez added that the city could consider other options at a later date. If opened, the proposal, which came in a large FedEx box, would have been made public, which The Monitor's report ("McAllen City Commission Rejects Sole Bid for Private Jail," September 23) suggests influenced the city commission's decision. The Monitor and other entities had previously requested to see the document.  The commission voted to reject GEO's proposal without inspecting the proposal.

Opponents of the proposed contract were concerned that the facility would hold immigrants criminally proseucuted for entering the United States without papers, as well as the concept of private jails, which encourages incarceration. 

Advocacy groups attended the meeting as well, including La Union del Pueblo Entero, Proyecto Azteca, the South Texas Civil Rights Project and the Americal Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Astrid Dominguez, advocacy coordinator for the Texas ACLU, claimed:

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