The Huffington Post writes that nearly 500 immigrant women and children were released from two Texas family detention centers this past weekend.
Women and children from both the South Texas Family Residential and the Karnes Family Residential Center were released over the weekend, following a ruling by an Austin judge that the state of Texas cannot license family detention centers as childcare facilities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) denied that the releases had anything to do with the court ruling and claimed that they had already been scheduled.
Agroup 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.
Olivia Lopez testifying at Congressional Progressive Caucus hearing on family detention
Social worker Olivia Lopez spoke to media and House Democrats in late July about the troubling inner workings of the GEO-operated Karnes family detention camp near San Antonio, Texas. She called what was happening at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility “tantamount to torture” and said that she was shocked when she began working at the facility to find that it was “really a prison.”
Lopez revealed that she was rebuked for attempting to provide basic social services such as showing the families the geographic location of the facility and creating better ways to document their concerns. In December, Lopez received this directive from her boss: “ICE: We don’t tell them anything.” She recalled that psychologists were encouraged to falsify records in order to leave a clean paper trail, and that they reported families’ stories to ICE agents.
Last week immigrant mothers detained at Karnes Detention Center near San Antonio told reporters that they faced retaliation after declaring a hunger strike to demand their release and protest the conditions in which they and their children are being held.
Yesterday, reports emerged that nearly 80 immigrant women at Karnes family detention center near San Antonio signed a letter announcing that beginning this morning they would participate in a Holy Week fast, during which they would not eat, send their children to school, or use any facility services until they received an answer to their demands.
Almost as soon as it opened in August, the Karnes Family Detention Center was the subject of controversy.
First, immigrant rights advocates rallied around Sara and her 7-year-old daughter Nayely when word got out that the GEO Group was denying the girl medical treatment for a life-treatening brain cancer and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was refusing to release them. Calls demanding their released flooded the facility for two days. Once reporters started calling, officials at the facility finally released Sara and Nayely.
Nayely went on to get treatment at Dell Children's Hospital in Austin before she and her mother moved to be with family in the U.S.
Then in October, news broke again of problems at the facility. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), along with Immigration Rights and Civil Rights Clinics at the University of Texas Law School, Human Rights First, and the Law Office of Javier N. Maldonado, filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE demanding the immediate investigation of and swift response to widespread allegations of sexual abuse and harassment at the detention center in Karnes City.
The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mid-September 2014.
Karnes County Commissioners voted earlier this month to allow the GEO Group to more than double the capacity of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) family detention center for immigrant women and children from 532 to 1,200 beds and cribs. The expansion was approved by a vote of 3-2.
KSAT San Antonio reports that the county will get $125,000 annually, and more jobs at the center. According to the GEO Group, the county will also see $500,000 in additional tax revenue.
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.
The newest film by Austin-based filmmaker Matthew Gossage about family detention, "No Sanctuary: Big Business and Family Detention" premiered to an audience of over 80 people in Austin, TX last Friday.
The film, a short documentary running about 30 minutes, gives a brief history of family detention and the coalition that brought it to an end at the T. Don Hutto family detention center. It also follows a mother, Sara, who together with her 7-year-old daughter was detained in the newly opened Karnes Family Detention Center. Sara and her daughter, Nayely, won freedom from Karnes after their lawyer took their story to Grassroots Leadership and the media. Nayely has brain cancer and was not receiving medical inside the Karnes County family detention center, which is operated by the GEO Group.
The film is available for advocacy and organizing groups around the country who want to learn more about family detention and what they can do to bring this practice to an end, once and for all.