Douglas Menjivar, an immigrant just released from the Polk County Detention Center in Livingston after 22 months in detention, says he was raped in September and October 2013 while detained at the Joe Corley detention center. Joe Corley is an immigrant detention center in Conroe, Texas run by the private prison corporation GEO Group.
Menjivar says he reported the rape to the supervising Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer known only as "Mr. Hernandez," immediately after it occurred, but was ridiculed and called “stupid” for "allowing himself to be raped."
Menjivar officially reported the incident to an ICE doctor in December 2014. The agency concluded its investigation in February, stating that the results of the investigation “do not corroborate the accusation.” However, Menjivar told Semana News that he couldn't provide the names of the four witnesses to the rape because he feard for the safety of his family in El Salvador.
While at the Joe Corley Detention Center, Menjivar participated in a hunger strike last year to call attention to the inhumane conditions at the facility. The hunger strike at Joe Corley was inspired by hunger strikes at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Shortly after protests in June 2014, ICE transferred some of the immigrant protesters detained at Joe Corley to other facilities, but the majority were deported.
Menjivar has been issued an order of deportation but says he fears for his life if returned to El Salvador. Menjivar's attorney appealed to the 5th Circuit Appellate Court to stop his deportation on the grounds that since he does not have a criminal record in this country, he should not be an enforcement priority. Though the legal process has not yet been successful, advocates credit Menjivar's recent release to a congressional letter by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee requesting a stay of deportation. Additionally, due to the danger he would face if deported, the Salvadoran consulate did not issue departure papers, which further delayed his deportation.
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.
Family detention will return to Texas with the announcement that the Karnes County Civil Detention Center will be used to detain families and children who are seeking refuge at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Houston Chronicle reports that ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said the agency plans to start housing women and children at the center as soon as August.
Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio immigration attorney, told the Houston Chronicle that Karnes as a "detention center with a smiley face. From the outside, it looks like a high school. It doesn't have the same prison-like exterior that most detention facilities have.
"But make no mistake, it is a prison."
Grassroots Leadership denounced the plans in a statement that reads in part:
The last time family detention was used in Texas, it became a national embarrassment as children and babies detained at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center 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.
“Given ICE’s shameful record of detaining immigrant families at the for-profit T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center, returning to mass family detention and deportation is a giant step backwards,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership. “The experience at Hutto was abysmal, and we shouldn’t allow the return of such treatment of asylum-seeking families.”
The Hutto Detention Center was also operated by a for-profit private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, and was subject to a lawsuit by the ACLU and the University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic contending that conditions at the facility violated minimum standards of care for detained children.
The Karnes center, opened in 2012 and operated by GEO Group Inc., will house up to 532 detainees.
U.S. Congressman John Culbertson said in a budget hearing that Texas has had a "very successful prison industry."
Culbertson also opined that that Texas has had "Great success...using private contractors" and that those contractors "operate at a significant savings to taxpayers." He also claimed that private facilities provided better food and services overall, and are liable for any issues that may arise.
Texas Prison Bidness, however, has reported several counter-examples of the "great success" portrayed in the recent BOP budget hearing:
The Corrections Corporation of America's witholding information regarding deaths at the Dawson State Jail, where a baby girl died prematurely after no medical personnel were assigned to oversee her mother's care;
The repeated sexual abuse and unsanitary living conditions reported at the Texas Youth Commission's Coke County Juvenile Justice Center, run the the GEO Group;
and the lawsuit filed against Reeves County, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the GEO Group following medical neglect that lead to the death of Jesus Manuel Galindo.
These are only three counter-examples among many that suggest that the "great success" of the private prison industry in Texas is merely a mirage.
The video of the Bureau of Prisons budget hearing is embedded below. The comments in question begin at 49:34.