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1,000-Bed Private Detention Facility Proposed for South Texas

On October 13, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is soliciting proposals for a new privately run detention center to operate in South Texas, the eighth of its kind along Interstate-35. The proposal calls for a location between San Antonio and Laredo to house 1,000 adult male and female detainees.

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“This would be yet another for-profit detention center in South Texas along the I-35 corridor, which has become detention alley,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership.

The American-Statesman reported that the Trump Administration has promised expansion of the detention system, supporting the profit margins of GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America or CCA). The expansion of detention forecasts a continued focus on interior enforcement and arrests, given that border crossings have declined since President Trump’s election. ICE has been criticized for actions of interior enforcement such as the raids in Austin in February “because more than half of the 53 immigrants arrested had no criminal history,” reported the American-Statesman.

“What Trump promised was the very high deportation numbers, and the way you get that is through the detention and deportation of asylum seekers” at the border, Libal said, “but if that number remains constant or goes down, you have to find new populations to deport” likely through ICE raids.

County Judge Joel Rodriguez said La Salle County would not participate in housing a detention facility due to the risks involved. The La Salle County sheriff’s office now operates a detention center in Encinal, Texas, after the private company Emerald Corrections abandoned the facility to the county in 2014.

As immigration cases pile up in a backlog of trials, deportations have slowed and detention centers remain in demand. “The combination of more arrests and fewer deportations could mean an increase in the populations of detention centers,” the article reported.

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Gay Asylum Seeker from Ghana Detained in South Texas, Ordered for Deportation Despite Claim to Due Process Violations

An article by the Intercept investigated the story of Sadat Ibrahim, a gay man from Ghana, who is facing deportation from within the South Texas ICE Processing Facility. Ibrahim arrived to the California border to seek asylum after being targeted by vigilante gangs in his community. He was a victim of violence motivated by homophobia while in his home community in Accra, where it is illegal to be gay.

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Ibrahim entered the U.S. through the San Ysidro U.S. border checkpoint between San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico, where he asked for help and claimed asylum. He was then sent to Georgia and detained in Stewart Detention Center, run by CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA), where he had no access to legal representation. According to The Intercept’s reporting, Ibrahim and his lawyer denounced ICE for withholding critical evidence for his asylum case sent by mail. “They maintain that an immigration judge would not have denied Ibrahim’s asylum claim if that evidence had been delivered,” the article says. Stewart Detention Center has been criticized by outside observers for due process violations, lack of access to legal assistance, and denied delivery of mail — issues seen at the several private CoreCivic-operated facilities in Texas.

Ibrahim has been transferred to South Texas ICE Processing Facility. He reports feeling terrified as deportation proceedings are underway. As an LGBT-identifying individual, he faces increased risk of violence within detention, and an uncertain future under the Trump Administration.

“Advocates also worry about the future of asylum cases for LGBTQ individuals under the new administration. Though Ibrahim’s due process disaster took place under Barack Obama, and the decision to deny him asylum was handed down less than a week after Trump became president, the new administration’s actions show a pattern of disregard for international LGBTQ rights,” the article states.

 

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Trump Pushing to Expand Operation Streamline and Migrant Incarceration in Private Prisons

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President Trump is pushing to expand Operation Streamline, a federal procedure to prosecute immigrants en masse with the federal crime of improper entry, reports the Houston Chronicle. While the first entry is charged as a misdemeanor, improper re-entry is charged as a felony with up to 20 years in prison. The Trump administration plans to expand the existence of this court procedure to California. Immigrants convicted in Operation Streamline and other federal court proceedings for immigration accounted for over half of federal criminal convictions in 2016. According to the Houston Chronicle, “By 2013, misdemeanor and felony prosecutions for crossing the border had skyrocketed to more than 91,200 cases, a 500 percent increase from 2003.” Those convicted are incarcerated in privately-operated Bureau of Prison facilities, most of which are located in Texas.

The government renamed Operation Streamline as Criminal Consequence Initiative last year. Since its inception in 2005, it has cost an estimated $7 billion according to Indefensible, the book published by Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies on the topic.

The criminal conviction of a prison sentence is intended to deter migrants from crossing the border, which ICE claims has lessened border crossings. According to the article by the Houston Chronicle, “The Government Accountability Office, however, has found problems with the agency's methodology, suggesting return rates basically remained unchanged when measuring over a more realistic time frame of three years and excluding immigrants who stayed in the United States in that period.”

The article further cites advocates’ denouncing of the program as a violation of immigrants’ due process rights, particularly for those seeking to claim asylum. “Both the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and Human Rights First, a national non-profit, have documented dozens of instances in which Customs and Border Protection officers wrongly didn't refer migrants for asylum interviews or pressured them into withdrawing their requests,” the article reports.

The push to expand Operation Streamline would likely lead to the construction of more private prisons under the Trump administration. Operation Streamline and associated felony prosecutions have driven contracts for 13 new privately operated “Criminal Alien Requirement” prisons from 2000-2013, according to Grassroots Leadership.

Immigrant Death in Detention Marks 12th This Year Under ICE Custody

According to reporting by Rewire, a recent report indicates that the number of deaths in detention is on track to be the highest in six years in Fiscal Year 2017. Rewire reported the recent death of Felipe Almazan-Ruiz in Texas on September 17, 2017 as the twelth death this year under ICE custody. The deaths bring attention to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s lack of medical care and neglect of detainees, as national reports have indicated a public health crisis.

Almazan-Ruiz was being held at IAH Secure Adult Detention Center, in Livingston, Texas, a facility operated by Management & Training Corporation. Activists have repeatedly called for the closure of this facility, known as Polk County Detention Center, for its restricted and inadequate access to medical care among other humanitarian reasons. The facility is notorious for detaining immigrants in dangerous conditions.

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Almazan-Ruiz was transferred to Polk County from Florida in anticipation of Hurricane Irma. According to ICE, he died of cardiac arrest after being admitted for treatment of cirrhosis of the liver. He was transferred to Livingston Memorial hospital and then to the Conroe Regional Medical Center.

Grassroots Leadership issued a press release in response to Almazan-Ruiz’s death. “Simply put, detention and deportation are a deadly business,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership.  “Given the high-profile failings of the detention system in Texas, it is outrageous that the Trump administration is planning a massive new for-profit detention center down the road in Conroe.”  

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A diabetic migrant's medication trashed while held for ICE in CCA custody

A diabetic woman detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and held in a Corrections Corporation of America (now called CoreCivic) detention center had her medication thrown away, Rewire reports.

 

Brenda Menjivar Guardado, from El Salvador, was detained in June at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, which is used to detain asylum-seeking women as their asylum case goes through the courts. Guardado has Type 1 diabetes, but had managed her condition throughout her journey to the United States. Once she was in ICE custody, however, her medicine was thrown away, according to Rewire.

 

While detained at Hutto, Guardado was given new medication, but it was ineffective. According to a press release from Grassroots Leadership, Guardado's glucose skyrocketed to 452, with normal glucose levels being between 90 and 100. When she asked for improved medication, officials at Hutto told her to drink more water. They also stated she should go back to El Salvador if she wanted better care.

 

American Gateways, a pro bono legal service that aids women in Hutto, tried to get her removed from custody due to Guardado's medical emergency, but the request was denied. Though Guardado fears for her life in El Salvador, she decided to accept deportation in hopes of receiving improved medical care. She is currently detained in Laredo as she awaits her deportation.

 

The Hutto Detention Center is operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), a for-profit prison company with a history of medical neglect.  CoreCivic also operates multiple other immigrant detention centers and prison throughout Texas.

 

 

New transgender unit in Texas detention center raises concerns

A new detention center in Texas that contains a separate unit for transgender inmates has activists concerned, reported Public Radio International.

The Praireland Detention Center, located in Alvarado Texas, is expected to hold about 700 migrants, with a separate pod for 36 transgender migrants as well. It is operated by Emerald Correctional Management, a private prison company that will run the detention center on a five-year contract. The city of Alvarado will then have a chance to extend the contract if they wish.

Activists are opposed to the new detention center because they fear poor treatment and abuse of transgender inmates in the pod. Activists reference the Santa Ana Jail in California, where transgender inmates did not receive their hormone therapy medication on time and dealt with delays dealing with the transfer of their medical records. There were also reports of sexual assaults in the form of unlawful and degrading strip searches, as well as guards telling the transgender inmates to “use their male voices” and to act more “like a male.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released a statement in 2015 saying they are committed to upholding the health, safety, and welfare of all transgender inmates.

Those in favor of the new detention center say that it will create 200 jobs in Alvarado.

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Brazilian national dies in ICE custody

A news release by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) states a Brazilian national died on November 25 in a San Antonio hospital while in their custody.  

Wenceslau Esmerio Campos had been detained at the South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall, Texas, which is operated by the for-profit company GEO Group. On November 23 he had chest pains and ICE Health Corp officials took him to the Frio County hospital. A short time later Campos was taken to Methodist Hospital in San Antonio due to his life-threatening condition. Though attempts were made to stabilize him, Campos passed away on November 25. He was 49 years old.

Wenceslau Esmerio Campos is one of three inmates who have died in ICE custody since October 1st of this year following the death of an inmate at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. There have also been over 150 deaths in ICE custody since 2003.

The South Texas Detention Center has a history of conditions issues, including denying adequate medical treatment, sexual abuse, and threats of strike by workers.

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Federal Judge bans ICE detainers on immigrants

Public News Service reported that a federal judge ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to stop requesting that certain inmates who are up for release be detained longer to determine their immigration status.

This ruling adds more intensity to the debate in Texas and other states over so-called 'sanctuary cities', in which local officials have no connection with ICE, therefore creating a safe space for undocumented immigrants. The order bars ICE from requesting that local jails detain possible deportable individuals for 48 hours, when they would otherwise be able to leave, in order to check their immigration status. Immigration advocates have long said that ICE detainers are illegal and used to detain people stopped for minor offenses. 

Bob Libel, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, said "In Dallas County, the sheriff said she wouldn't be honoring some detainers, and in Houston, there's been a very active campaign to try to convince elected officials there to end detainers." He then said ""We do believe that there seems to be growing momentum against these things."

ICE officials were reached for a comment but declined to respond. 

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Limestone County still paying bills on empty private prison

In February, we reported that Limestone County officials had hopes of reopening the shuttered Limestone County Detention Center by potentially contracting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The private prison for immigrants, owned by the county and operated by Management and Training Corporation, has been empty since 2013.

On March 24th, according to a report from the Groesbeck Journal, rather than discussing the reopening of the facility, Limestone County Commissioners were asking why the county should be paying invoices for costs associated with the empty prison rather than the prison operator. 

According to the report:

"The county paid three invoices in 2015, totaling $464, but has now received two new invoices, one for $1,250 and another for $40.

“Why should we pay these?” asked Commissioner Pct. 2 W.A. “Sonny” Baker, pointing out that the invoice was addressed not to the county but to a company that ran the prison previously.

Commissioner Pct. 4 Bobby Forrest noted the same thing, that the invoice was marked “Attention: Mike Sutton,” the name of the man who ran the prison for many years through Continuing Education Centers, then later through a company he formed.

The commissioners agreed to delay a decision on paying any more invoices until they are certain it's a final bill. 

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South Texas officials working to reopen scandal-ridden Willacy County prison

Tent City
Tent City
Willacy officials are working to reopen the troubled Willacy County Correctional Center by winning a new federal, state, or local contract, according to a report by KRGV.

The prison, known as Tent City because of its construction out of Kevlar tents, was destroyed last year after an uprising by immigrant prisoners in protest of conditions at the privately operated facility in February. The prison, run by Management & Training Corporation (MTC), was closed due to significant structural damage causing the relocation of 2,500 federal prisoners and nearly 400 employee layoffs. The economic ripple effect in the area didn't end there, with job losses in the private and government sectors following the prison closure. 

The facility had been operating under "Criminal Alien Requirement" to incarcerate immigrants for the Bureau of Prisons.  

In June of last year, The Nation published a detailed exposé on the uprising describes a peaceful protest that was caused by widespread medical neglect.  The peaceful protest was followed by the what the Nation called an "avoidable escalation" caused by MTC's guards.   

This was not the first time that MTC had run afoul of a federal agency after allegations of abuse at the facility.  In 2011, the facility lost its Immigration and Customs Enfrocement (ICE) contract following an expose by PBS' Frontline detailing sexual and physical abuse at the prison.

Given this history, it would seem almost unbelievable that this facility would win any new contract, let alone a federal one.  We'll keep you posted on developments.   

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