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Freezing Overnight Temperatures at Brooks County Detention Center

During a bitter cold spell in Texas, prisoners at Brooks County Detention Center lacked heating in the first days of the new year. According to KRGV, the conditions at the facility “are improving” after the facility lacked heat and blasted air conditioning instead. The facility, operated by GEO Group, detains immigrants under custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshals Service.

“People are walking around with boxes on their heads, socks on their arms just trying to keep themselves warm. We don't have no sweaters,” a detainee told KRGV. The article also stated that some people refused to eat because the cafeteria further exposed people to the cold, though ICE would not comment on the hunger strike. 

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The U.S. Marshals Service issued the following comment: "Some inmates had expressed grievances about the temperatures by refusing to eat breakfast Wednesday morning. The facility confirms all inmates are safe and eating their issued meals." 

This news comes at the heels of Hurricane Harvey, when media could not confirm that the facility evacuated detainees in the path of the storm. Rep. Lloyd Doggett has since filed an inquiry with the Bureau of Prisons about the treatment of prisoners in Texas following the hurricane.

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Deaths in Detention Marks Eight-Year High in 2017

Image Source: Detention Watch Network and IMM Print

The Houston Chronicle reported on January 12 that the death toll in detention reached an eight-year high in 2017 with a total of twelve deaths. "The number of deaths in 2017 has alarmed immigration activists, who have long accused immigration officials and detention center operators of providing delayed or substandard medical care and ignoring complaints of illness,” the article stated.

The article featured the story of Felipe Almazan-Ruiz, who passed away on September 17 from cardiac arrest. Almazan-Ruiz was transferred from Florida to Livingston, Texas, following Hurricane Irma. The article also featured a map of all deaths in detention centers since ICE was created in 2003.

“Simply put, detention and deportation are a deadly business,” Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, said. Libal commented that the “high-profile failings of the detention system in Texas” present major concerns when considering ICE’s plans to increase the number of detainees in privately owned facilities. This year, ICE plans to open a 1,000-bed for-profit detention center in Conroe, adjacent to Joe Corley Detention Facility.

This “deadly business” was investigated by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in December. The OIG report stated: "Overall, the problems we identified undermine the protection of detainees' rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” The investigators visited Laredo Processing Center along with five other facilities, and found that several facilities had inadequate medical care and misused solitary confinement, contributing to detainees’ health issues and deaths.

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Women Stuck in Hutto Detention Center

The Austin Chronicle reported in January that female asylum seekers are being detained in Hutto Detention Center without a court date. As we reported about the backlog in immigration cases in Laredo this month, the San Antonio court currently faces a 31-month lag in court dates for immigrants with 26,460 cases are currently pending. This number marks “a new high,” according to the Trans­ac­tion­al Records Access Clearing­house.

Meanwhile, the Austin Chronicle article shared the story of women like Celia (a pseudonym) who has no hearing date for her asylum case. Her lawyer Virginia Raymond says that she sees Celia carrying "utter despair."

Sofia Casini, immigration programs coordinator with Grassroots Leadership, commented that this situation represents a departure from a usual backlog. "There aren't too many cases on the docket; there's hundreds of cases not on the docket. That's not normal in any legal context… They are getting no information at all about essentially their life sentence," Casini said. "It's hard to explain just how completely unjust and abnormal that is."

While the Trump administration plans to increase detention capacity and add more immigration judges to fix the system, Casini commented that the ultimate goal is for closure of detention facilities. "The system is unnecessary and unjust in the first place. All these women locked up in Hutto don't need to be there. There are friends, family, and community groups like Casa Marianella here in Austin that can take them in. Instead, they are trapped in a cell, and left in the dark,” she said.

The article also commented that private prison giant CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA) will profit from the disarray of the legal system. Last fall, “CoreCivic's CEO said ICE expects the average length of detentions to jump as a result of increased interior enforcement, an outcome that benefits their profit margin.”

Meanwhile, the FBI’s investigation of sexual assault in Hutto Detention Center is pending and Laura Monterrosa remains detained after she spoke out in November against abuse by a CoreCivic guard.

Image source: Tray Frazier, Grassroots Leadership

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ICE wants permission to destroy records of immigrant abuse

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wants approval for its timetable on retaining or destroying records related to detention operations, reports the ACLU.

 

ICE reached out to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which decides how federal agencies maintain their records. ICE wishes to change their policy on destroying 11 types of records including sexual assaults, solitary confinement, and deaths of individuals in custody. ICE proposed destroying records of sexual assault and death records after 20 years, and proposed destroying records of solitary confinement after three years.

 

NARA has given provisional approval to ICE for their policy changes. NARA gave various reasons for the approval, stating that sexual assaults and deaths in custody "do not document significant actions of Federal officials." This is obviously incorrect, seeing as there have been multiple cases of sexual assaults in public and private facilities that contract with ICE. The agency also stated that information related to sexual assaults is "highly sensitive and does not warrant retention."

 

Maintaining these records is vital, as they are often the only way for the public to understand and monitor an immigration detention system that is notoriously inhumane. With private prisons expanding under the Trump administration, it is more important than ever to maintain strict records that expose the mistreatment and injustice inside immigrant detention centers.

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Residents protest newest immigration lock-up in Texas

The people of Conroe, Texas are getting a new immigration detention center in their town, regardless of whether they want it or not, reports the Texas Observer.

 

In April, the GEO Group was awarded a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to build a new immigrant detention center in Conroe. The contract includes the construction and operation of the $110-million facility, which the company expects to earn $44 million in annual revenue. However, city officials and residents are not impressed.

 

Conroe Mayor Toby Powell  said, "It’s going ahead; I don’t think I have any say-so," in deciding whether the facility will be built or not. When the idea for the detention center was first brought up in 2013, members of the community spoke out against the construction, stating they did not want Conroe to become "Con-vict-roe." These protests continued as community members spoke out against the new facility.

 

Unfortunately, the contract is between ICE and GEO, who already received the necessary building permits. Mayor Powell claims he was powerless to stop the issuing of permits.

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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.

 

 

Another death in ICE custody

A Salvadoran immigrant died while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, reports the Huffington Post.

Carlos Mejía Bonilla of El Salvador was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on April 1. He was taken to Jersey City Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit for gastrointestinal bleeding on June 8. He died two days later, according to a statement from ICE.

 Carlos was the tenth person to die in ICE custody this fiscal year, which began on October 1. Two of those deaths were suicides. Another woman, detained in a family detention center, attempted suicide in hopes that it would allow her family, who was detained with her, to go free.

 Though the number of deaths this fiscal year is already equal to 2016, and the most since 2011, the federal government is looking to increase the number of beds in private facilities used to detain immigrants. Another report shows that the number of deaths in ICE custody is on pace to double from 2016.

 These deaths highlight the horrible conditions and treatment of people in private prisons, and shows why they must be shut down.

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Walker County applies to house immigrant detainers for feds

Walker County submitted an application to U.S. immigration officials to house undocumented immigrants charged with criminal offenses, reports the Huntsville Item.

Walker County Sheriff Clint McRae and Captain Steve Fisher met with both Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to discuss the possibility of detaining undocumented immigrants in the Walker County Jail. For now the county could only lease 20 beds to the federal government, because any more would cause staffing and other issues at the jail. However, the sheriff said that the county could take more immigrants detainees if a deal was struck with DHS and ICE.

If a contract is approved, the jail would have to meet federal standards to house detainees. Capt. Fisher believes that will not be an issue since the jail is only a few years old. Sheriff McRae said that if the contract is awarded, he will consider sending four deputies to Washington D.C. to be trained by ICE as part of the 287(g) program.

When the jail was being built, Walker County officials told taxpayers that they would look for ways to bring in additional revenue. Capt. Fisher said that is what they are doing.

 

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ICE may house undocumented immigrants in private prisons closed by DOJ

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may soon reopen private prisons in Ohio, New Mexico, and Robstown, Texas, as reported by Correctional News.  

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is considering reopening these three facilities to handle an influx of undocumented immigrants reported to be entering the U.S. This move comes after the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it would begin phasing out the use of private prisons in the federal prison system.

The facilities in Ohio, New Mexico, and Texas had previously been used exclusively by the Bureau of Prisons, which falls under the jurisdiction of the DOJ. .  However, this comes at a time when the Department of Homeland Security is doing its own review of private prison use, and will decide in the next months whether to continue using private companies to run their immigrant detention centers.

The facility in Robstown, Texas is operated by the GEO Group, a for-profit prison company. This facility has a history of issues, including failed Texas Commission on Jail Standards reviews, inmate escapes, and prisoner deaths.

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Emerald Corrections to open new ICE detention center in Alvarado

Emerald Companies sold the city on the idea of floating debt to build the detention center.
In November, the 700-bed Prairieland Detention Center is scheduled to open in Alvarado, Texas, a remote town in Johnson County 40 mines southeast of Dallas. The facility will be operated by Emerald Correctional Management, a Louisiana-based private prison corporation that manages six other facilities and has faced allegations of mistreatment of detained immigrants and shady contracting practices at other facilities.

 

The detention center will include a 36-person unit specifically designated to detain transgender immigrants, a practice that LGBTQI advocates decry as inhumane because transgender individuals are particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual assaults while in custody. Olga Tomchin, a staff attorney at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told Fusion, “ICE has shown over and over again that they’re incapable of detaining trans people with even minimal levels of dignity or safety.”

In June 2015, as county officials were breaking ground for the new detention center in Alvarado, 35 U.S. Representatives sent a letter to to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson urging him to end the detention of LGBTQI individuals. An excerpt from the letter reads, “These individuals are extremely vulnerable to abuse, including sexual assault, while in custody, in particular, transgender women housed in men’s detention facilities.”

Prairieland will be the second facility with an ICE contract in Johnson County, where the Johnson County Law Enforcement Center also currently detains immigrants for the federal agency. According to the Cleburne Times Review, Commissioner Rick Bailey was concerned that the county should not rely on two ICE facilities given the volatility of immigration laws. “I am concerned about ICE going away,” Bailey said in a Johnson County Commissioners meeting in early 2015.

These concerns are not unfounded, as Emerald suddenly pulled out of a contract with LaSalle County for a detention center in Encinal, Texas in late 2014 after the facility’s population decreased. This left the county with $20 million in debt, and county officials scrambling to run the facility without the resources or corrections knowledge for the job.

Despite the risks and opposition from some local officials, as well as national LGBTQI and immigrant advocates, the county approved the contract and the facility is slated to open in November 2016.

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