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.
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.