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GEO Groups' Karnes County family detention center is targeted by advocates over locking up a little girl with cancer

Nayely and Sara2
Nayely and Sara2

The Karnes County family detention center, operated by the GEO Group, was at the center of a scandal over the denial of treatment for a seven year old girl with brain cancer detained inside with her mother. 

Last week Grassroots Leadership highlighted ICE’s refusal to release a Nayely, a seven-year-old with a life threatening brain tumor, from Karnes County Family Detention Center even after her mom, Sara, passed a Credible Fear Interview, the threshold for qualifying for asylum.

ICE's refusal to allow a terminally ill child to bond out of detention to receive treatment is due to a new "no or high bond" policy for immigrants seeking asylum. The policy was enacted to act as a deterrant for people who may be considering seeking asylum here. According to the Houston Chronicle, Nina Pruñeda, an ICE spokeswoman, stated that bond is actually being granted on a case by case basis. Legally, two factors are used to determine bond eligibility: whether the person is a flight risk or a danger to the community. Some advocates might argue that mothers with children are neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community. 

In light of the new policy, we are very happy to report that Nayely and her mom Sara were released from Karnes last week after ICE was overwhelmed by intense media coverage and phone calls from people demanding their immediate release. Nayely's condition was evaluated at Dell Children's Hospital in Austin on Tuesday, September 9th.

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Groups working to Fight Private Prison Expansion and Immigrant Detention Host Webinar

This week, Bob and I participated in a webinar hosted by Detention Watch Network and our respective organizations, The Sentencing Project and Grassroots Leadership. The webinar addressed the relationship between for-profit prisons and immigrant detention.  

Cody Mason, with The Sentencing Project, presented on the recent report, Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention, where he discussed the growth in ICE and USMS contract capacity for immigrant detention.  Bob discussed how Operation Streamline is driving growth in immigrant detention through the increased prosecutions of certain federal offenses that have moved immigration policy into the criminal justice system.  Also, Emily Tucker with the Detention Watch Network focused her remarks on the problems with mandatory detention and the unjust federal and state policies that have expanding the government’s authority to detain people.  The call also featured Hope Mustakim of Texas; her husband Nazry immigrated from Singapore several years ago and due to changes in immigration policy was detained in the South Texas Detention Center in 2011.

A few notable facts reported during the webinar are:

  • State and federal prisoners held in private prisons grew 37% between 2002 and 2010;
  • Detainees held in private prisons increased by 259% between 2002 and 2010;
  • Operation Streamline has contributed to immigrant detainees held by USMS increased by 121% 
  • after 2005, despite Border Patrol Apprehensions decreasing by nearly 250%;
  • Operation Streamline has also led to a 136% increase in U.S.C. 1325 (improper entry) prosecutions and 85%; increase in prosecutions for U.S.C. 1326 (reentry of removed Aliens) prosecutions in both the W. Texas and S. Texas Districts;
  • 60% of people in detention are there under mandatory detention laws; and 
  • Obama administration's immigration enforcement policy targets individuals with criminal convictions.

Nearly 200 people registered for the webinar, representing communities of faith, impacted communities, and organizers working towards immigration and criminal justice reform.  Folks can download the webinar here until August 29th. 

DHS to announce new reorganization plans; Will Mineral Wells move forward with Emerald's supposed ICE detention center?

Today, Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano and Immigration chief John Morton will announce the second phase of a reorganization of the ICE detention system.  While the details are still hazy, it looks like it may not be good news for the private prison industry.  According to the New York Times ("Ideas for Immigrant Detention Include Converting Hotels and Building Models, October 6) article on the announcement,

The Obama administration is looking to convert hotels and nursing homes into immigration detention centers and to build two model detention centers from scratch as it tries to transform the way the government holds people it is seeking to deport.

These and other initiatives, described in an interview on Monday by Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, are part of the administration’s effort to revamp the much-criticized detention system, even as it expands the enforcement programs that send most people accused of immigration violations to jails and private prisons. The cost, she said, would be covered by greater efficiencies in the detention and removal system, which costs $2.4 billion annually to operate and holds about 380,000 people a year.

It always makes me wary to hear about plans to fix detention system plans by building new detention facilities.  However, the move away from private prisons and county jail contracts could be a good thing.  It's too early to tell if the moves will include closing some of the large and controversial private prisons holding immigrant detainees such as MTC's Raymondville "Tent City." 

One thing is for certain, if I were a city in negotiations with a private prison company for a new 500 or 1,000 bed speculative ICE detention center, I may rethink my plans.  That's exactly where Mineral Wells is in its plans for a detention center operated by Emerald Corrections.  A first proposed speculative detention center was rejected earlier this year after public outcry.  Emerald has been in negotiations with the city on a second proposed site, and the city will vote later today on whether to continue those negotiations.  We'll keep you posted on developments. 

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