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As Hurricane Harvey approaches, ICE abandons over 50 women & children at a bus station

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) abandoned about 50 immigrant women and children at a bus station in San Antonio, reports the Rivard Report.

 

The 50 women and children were all Central Americans who had come to the U.S. seeking asylum. Once they arrived to the U.S. border, they were taken to family detention centers while their asylum cases were processed. These private detention centers are run by for-profit corporations, who contract with ICE to operate the facilities. ICE ordered the women taken to the bus station in San Antonio on Friday as Hurricane Harvey made its approach to the Texas coast. Due to the weather advisory caused by Hurricane Harvey, all buses from the station were cancelled, leaving the women and children abandoned in worsening conditions.

 

The Interfaith Welcome Coalition of San Antonio contacted various non-profits in the area, who helped find a church that welcomed in the women and children. Congressman Lloyd Doggett also spoke with ICE, saying "This is all really unacceptable. We need greatly improved communication and more attention to genuine humanitarian concerns."

 

This was not the only mishap by immigration officials in Texas as they responded to Hurricane Harvey. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) announced before the hurricane that they would be leaving their checkpoints north of the border open, leading to an increase of fear for individuals fleeing from Hurricane Harvey.

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New family detention center no longer being considered

A family detention center in San Diego, Texas, is no longer being considered as local officials cite low apprehensions at the border, reports the Caller-Times.

Last July, Duval County Commissioners voted to begin contract negotiations with Serco to turn an old nursing home into a family detention center. Serco, a UK-based private prison company, tried to negotiate with Jim Wells County to use the same nursing home, which is located in both Duval and Jim Wells County. The negotiation with Jim Wells failed following backlash from the community, leading to Serco reaching out to Duval County about the proposed facility.

In an email to the Caller-Times, Duval County Judge Ricardo Carrillo, who supported the work with Serco, stated: "Serco informed me back on Feb. 28 that after several meetings with (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials, the news is that they (the government) are not planning to move out on the family residential center approach at this time because ‘apprehensions are at an all-time low level.’”

While this is a welcome win to prevent more family detention centers, it comes at a time when Texas state lawmakers are considering bills to allow the state to license family detention centers as child care facilities. The state was unable to license the facilities following a ruling by Judge Karin Crump saying the state did not have the authority to license immigrant family detention centers. The ruling was praised by immigrant families and immigrant rights advocates who oppose the policy of family detention. The Texas Attorney General is appealing that decision now.

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ICE Renews Private Contract to Run Largest Family Detention Center

According to Huffington Post, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) revised and renewed its' contract with a private company to keep operating the country's largest family detention center. 

ICE renewed the contract with Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) to run the South Texas Family Residential Center for another five years. The contract renewal comes after the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced they would phase out their use of private prisons. While this announcement did not affect immigrant detention centers, such as the South Texas Family Residential Center, it did cause the Department of Homeland Security to review whether ICE should follow through with the DOJ decision to phase out using private prison companies. 

Under the renewed contract CCA will receive less money to run the facility. However, CCA will receive payment regardless of how many beds are filled at their facility. The contract is scheduled to last until September of 2021, but ICE does have the option to cancel it with 60 days' notice.  

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Senators press Department of Homeland Security to stop family detention

A group of 17 Democratic senators called on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to end the practice of family detention, as reported by Mother Jones.

The group of senators, including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine, sent a letter to Sec. Johnson saying family detention is "wrong" and "should be ended immediately." They cited research showing how prolonged confinement can hurt children's physical and mental health. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has taken a similar position as her running mate, and called for an end to family detention.

There are currently three family detention centers in the United States, one in Pennsylvania and  two in Texas. These centers have a history of poor medical care, lack of legal access, and sexual assault.

 

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ICE’s alternatives to detention still benefit for-profit prison companies like GEO

A recent NPR story, As Asylum Seekers Swap Prison Beds For Ankle Bracelets, Same Firm Profits, shed light on a new profiteering industry for private prison companies, community detention. No stranger to Texas Prison Bid’ness, GEO Group is one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S. and operates 15 federal migrant detention centers, many of which detain children and families. In a new kind of federal surveillance, families are being released from these facilities, but are required to wear tracking devices and remain closely monitored. Who is conveniently positioned to provide the tracking devices and community supervision? Geo Care, a subsidiary of GEO Group.


Geo Care received a $56 million contract to provide ankle monitoring services for 10,000 migrants and telephone check-ins for 20,000 migrants. In addition, in September ICE awarded Geo Care an $11 million contract to provide case management services to migrants who have been released.


ICE clarified why Geo Care was selected to run the program instead of a social service entity usually responsible for case management.  "...We really aim to ensure that there's a wide variety of different tools that we can use for compliance,"  says ICE assistant director Lorenzen-Strait. Disturbingly, the manager for Geo Care's new Family Case Management Program is a former top official in ICE's Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations.


Job descriptions of GEO Family Case Managers and Sr. Case Managers confirm ICE’s intent. It is clear that first and foremost, “case managers” are community detention officers, whose primary role is to monitor the lives of released migrants. Job description duties include:


“Conducts regular and on-going monitoring of family participants through in-person check-ins (e.g., home or office visits) and telephonic reporting. At a minimum, check-ins must be done prior to any appointment, hearing, or other immigration required obligation. Conducts additional check-ins as needed to promote compliance with immigration requirements.”


Although alternatives to detention offer opportunities for families to be released, this “freedom” comes with continued surveillance and control, and private prison companies continue to make millions.

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Some say immigrant family detention policy may disappear after court ruling

The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mid-September 2014.
The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mid-September 2014.
According to memos from a migrant attorney group, a tentative court ruling regarding the legality of detaining immigrant women and children was made by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in California on April 24. The 22-page ruling states that the Obama administration’s policy of detaining migrant children is in violation with an 18-year-old settlement called Flores v. Meese.

According to McClatchy DC, the ruling has not officially been filed but the migrant lawyers and federal attorneys were given 30 days to come to an agreement. Now that the 30 days have passed, the agreement has been given an extension. Gee will issue a final ruling on the matter if no agreement is reached.

McClatchy reports that some believe the tentative court ruling could force the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to drastically change current policy. They may decide to take any number of options: release undocumented women and children into the community; release the children but detain the mothers; or completely overhaul the way the agency shelters the migrants until their cases are heard by immigration courts.

According to the memos, the Flores ruling states that children and their mothers cannot be detained in unlicensced, secure facilities like the Karnes County Residential Center and the South Texas Family Residential Center. It also states that it is inappropriate for migrant women and children to be detained unless they pose a safety risk to the community.

In 1997’s Flores v. Meese case, the settlement called for minors to be in the custody of family or legal guardians if available. The case also stipulates that the government is only allowed to detain children in safe and sanitary facilities that are licensed.

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600 people protest the CCA family detention camp in Dilley, Texas

Dilley Camp Protest
Dilley Camp Protest
Over 600 protesters called for the end of the incarceration of immigrant women and children in Dilley, Texas on May 2, shutting down a highway along the way.

Organized by Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families, the protest brought people from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, Dallas, Falfurrias, San Marcos, and Elgin, Texas; as well as from Silver City and Santa Fe NM, Des Moines IA, Washington D.C., New York City, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Orange County, California. Protesters began in a park in central Dilley and marched almost 2 miles to the family detention camp.

During the march, they forced the closure of Texas Highway 85. Once outside the gates of the camp, the protesters heard from people who had been detained, including a woman who was held in a Japanese incarceration camp during WWII.

The South Texas Family Residential Center opened in December 2014 as the administration’s response to the arrival of Central American women and children seeking asylum from domestic violence, organized crime and gang violence.

"Many of them are escaping from violence and torture, from abuse at the hands of gangs," Sofia Casini told the Texas Tribune. "To be put inside of centers with armed guards, where the kids are yelled at, it's all a re-traumatization process."

Operated by The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the South Texas Family Residential Center is one of two family detention centers in Texas, along with the Karnes County Residential Center, which is operated by the GEO Group and can currently can hold 600 women and children. Karnes is set to expand to a capacity of 1,200. The Dilley  facility detains 480 women and children, and is set to become the largest immigrant detention center in the United States with a capacity of 2,400.

In a statement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said that facilities like the one in Dilley are "an effective and humane alternative for maintaining family units."

 

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Top Texas Private Prison Stories of 2014 - #1 - CCA’s Devious Deal in Dilley reaches all the way to Arizona and the University of Texas

The Texas Observer broke the news in September that Corrections Corporation of America was getting back into the business of family detention in the remote South Texas town of Dilley. 

The deal was for a facility that now sits on a 50-acre site just outside the town of Dilley, 70 miles southwest of San Antonio. The property is part of Sendero Ranch, a “workforce housing community,” more commonly called a “man camp,” for oilfield workers. Sendero Ranch is owned by Koontz McCombs, a commercial real estate firm.

The involvement of Red McCombs, a well-known University of Texas alumnus and booster, did not sit well with students at UT. At a protest at the eponymous McCombs School of Business, they demanded that McCombs either break the lease or students and faculty would push to have his name dropped from the school. 

That wasn't the only thing about the deal that had people calling foul. The unusual contract involves a lease agreement between real estate group Koontz McCombs, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), CCA, and the town of Eloy, AZ, which is nearly 1,000 miles away.

As a result of the contract being "passed through" Eloy — which already contracts with CCA — the competitive bidding process, environmental impact report, and other safeguard measures were completely bypassed in the interest of opening the detention camp as expediently as possible. This deal streams revenue to Eloy, but leaves them free from any of the liability that comes with running a private detention facility.

Of course, CCA is not new to family detention. CCA operated the notorious T. Don Hutto family detention center until 2009, when the Obama Administration removed families from the facilities amid outcry and lawsuits over the conditions inside. Reports emerged that children as young as eight months old wore prison uniforms, lived in locked prison cells with open-toilets, were subjected to highly restricted movement, and were 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.  

The facility opened amid criticism in December and is planned to be the single largest immigrant detention center in the U.S. With a nearly $300 per person/per day rate, CCA is poised to make millions locking up asylum-seeking women and children in the massive detention camp. 

 

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Controversy over Karnes Commissioners Court approval of GEO expansion

On Decemb

Karnes Commissioners Court
Karnes Commissioners Court
er 1st, the Monday after Thanksgiving, the Karnes County Commissioners Court convened for a rapidly summoned special session on the expansion of the GEO-run family detention center, now called the "Karnes County Residential Center." Though the privately operated prison company has already made record profits in the few months since it was granted a contract to detain immigrant families, they are now asking to more than double the facility's capacity from 600 beds to 1300.

Immigrant advocates and attorneys testified about the humanitarian costs of child detention and the sexual assault allegations filed by women in the detention center that are still being invistigated. Other community members were concerned that GEO is attempting to bully Karnes County into approving the expansion, despite forcing the county to shoulder the burden of investigating sexual assault cases and transporting victims. Some also expressed that many jobs were given to people outside the community and the income the county receives from the prison didn't justify the costs. GEO officials claimed that the county is contractually obligated to approve the expansion.

Due to the controversy, the commissioners extended discussion to the December 9th Commissioners Court meeting where they were to vote on the measure. However, after hearing more testimony of human rights abuses, reports of understaffing from a supervisor who works at the GEO facility, and contractual guidance from county attorneys, the decision was once again delayed.

Advocates protest UT alumnus Red McCombs' involvement in Dilley family detention center

UT Alumna Deborah Alemu; Image from the Daily Texan

Red McCombs, a well known alumnus of the University of Texas, is half of the partnership that makes up Koontz McCombs — the real estate group contracting the land with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for the new family detention camp in Dilley, TX.

The ominously named South Texas Family Detention Center will be able to hold 2,400 people, making it the largest immigrant detention center in the country and putting it on par with the internment camps built for Japanese families during World War II.

On Monday, November 17th, students, alumni, and other advocates gathered at UT's McCombs School of Business (named after McCombs in recognition of his financial support of the school) to petition Thomas Gilligan, dean of the school, to urge McCombs to reconsider the deal with CCA. 

According to some sources, Dean Gilligan agrees that the practice of detaining families is unjust. It's up to McCombs to determine the next move.

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