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Karnes County Family Detention Center

Immigrant mothers on hunger strike in Karnes family detention center say they face intimidation and retaliation

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.

Advocates say that although 40 to 45 women initially began participating in the hunger strike, that number decreased after three women perceived as leaders were placed in isolation in a dark medical clinic with their children overnight on Monday.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is expected to investigate these allegations.

There are also reports that facility guards threatened women participating in the strike with deportation or having their children taken away. Additionally, there are anecdotal reports that all food was cleared from the fridges, even for those women who were not fasting, and that facility officials tightly monitored calls and cut off any conversation that mentioned the hunger strike.

One San Antonio paralegal was accused of inciting the protest and has been banned from the facility, despite multiple statements from both the women inside and advocates that the detained mothers are acting of their own accord. The hunger strike spanned 4 days, from the morning of Tuesday March 31 to Saturday April 4.

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Immigrant mothers begin Holy Week hunger strike in Karnes City family detention lock up

Hunger Strike Announcement Letter
Hunger Strike Announcement Letter

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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.

 

According to their letter, the purpose of the strike is to demand their release and protest the conditions in which their children are being held. 

 

The original hand-written letter is pictured above, and a translated version reads as follows:

 

“In the name of the mothers, residents of the Center for Detentions in Karnes City, we are writing this petition whereby we ask to be set free with our children. There are mothers here who have been locked in this place for as long as 10 months.

 

We also have mothers, that because they have had a previous deportation, are not granted a bond.  They are granting a bond to their children, but they are not allowing an out to the mothers. This is the motive that we have taken the initiative of uniting ourselves and initiating a Hunger Strike, so that you can see and feel our desperation.

 

We have come to this country, with our children, seeking refugee status and we are being treated like delinquents. We are not delinquents nor do we pose any threat to this country.

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During this Hunger Strike, no mother will work in the center of detention or send our children to school.  We will not use any of the services provided by this place until we have been heard and our freedom has been approved.

 

All of the mothers demand that you give us a solution. Included amongst us are mothers whom this is the first time they have been in this country.

 

Asylum Officials have conducted Credible Fear Interviews and determined them to be Positive. Even after having a result of positive, we are still detained because we are not able to pay the elevated bond and in some cases we are not given the opportunity to pay the bond.   

 

You should know that this is only the beginning and we will not  stop until we achieve our objectives.  This strike will continue until every one of us is freed.

The conditions, in which our children find themselves, are not good. Our children are not eating well and every day they are losing weight.  Their health is deteriorating.

 

We know that any mother would do what we are doing for their children.  

We deserve to be treated with some dignity and that our rights, to the immigration process, be respected.There are some mothers that lost their appeal for Asylum and were forced to sign deportation papers. We believe that this is unjust because they have come to this country asking for Asylum because they are in danger in their country. And now they are being deported back to the place where they could even lose their life.

 This petition is signed by all the mothers, of this center, in detention.”

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Top Texas Private Prison Stories of 2014 - #2 - Karnes County votes to expand GEO’s troubled family detention camp

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.

According to the complaint, guards removed female detainees from their cells late in the late evening and early morning hours for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts in various parts of the facility, and attempted to cover up these actions.

The MALDEF release also says that "although this unlawful conduct was reported to Karnes Center personnel, to date, no reasonable actions have been taken to stop or prevent this abuse, or to prevent its escalation."

But that wasn't the end of the controversy. In November and December, the Karnes County Commissioners Court faced wide-spread public opposition to a proposal before them to approve GEO's plans to expand the facility. Several public meetings were packed as the Commissioners weighed the proposal. 

Though the Court would eventually vote 3-2 in favor of expansion, one commissioner who voted "no" was particularly upset over threats made by GEO. Commissioner Pete Jauer voted against the expansion in part because GEO Group said that they would sue the county if they didn't vote in GEO's favor. "I still don't like to live under the threat hanging over my head with their right to sue us if they're good neighbors,” Jauer told KSAT. 

The family detention center is now poised to expand to 1,200 beds and cribs in the New Year, which will also double GEO's profits on the facility. 

Karnes County Commission approves expansion of GEO's family detention facility


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.
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.

The expansion was hotly debated in Karnes for weeks, with county commission meetings uncharacteristically packed with supporters and opponents of the family detention center.

Commissioner Pete Jauer voted against the expansion in part because of threats from GEO Group that they would sue the county if they didn't vote in GEO's favor. "I still don't like to live under the threat hanging over my head with their right to sue us if they're good neighbors,” Jauer told KSAT. 

Celina Moreno, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told KSAT that investigations are still underway into allegations of some female detainees at the center being sexually abused. 

A corporate spokesperson for the GEO Group told KSAT they are happy with the commissioners’ vote and that work on the expansion should begin in the next 30 to 60 days.

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.

"No Sanctuary: Big Business and Family Detention" premiered in Austin

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.

Watch the trailer below. If you would like to show the film in your commnunity, email tuff@grassrootsleadership.org

 

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The GEO Group has already seen a return on their investment in family detention

The GEO Group's stock prices hit a new 52-week high this week, reaching $38.69 a share. At a stockholder meeting in August, the company promised increased revenue — a projection of $26 million this year — resulting from the return of family detention to the Karnes County Civil Detention Center in Texas that same month. 

Karnes County Detention Center
Karnes County Detention Center

The Corrections Corporation of America is also profitting from the return of family detention, with the construction on the newest and largest immigrant detention center in the country—the South Texas Family Residential Center—beginning last month in Dilley, TX. CCA reportedly will make $298 dollars per person per day in Dilley. 

Private prison corporations are counting on the expansion of immigrant family detention as an entirely new income stream. They can charge the government more than $250 per day for every individual (mother or child) housed in their facility, over $100 more than they can charge for an adult in immigrant detention. 

 

Karnes County Family Detention Center becomes the newest site in a long string of human rights abuses against immigrant detainees

The Karnes City Family Detention Center came under intense scrutiny earlier this month when the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and lawyers from the University of Texas School of Law submitted a complaint that guards have been committing “substantial, ongoing sexual abuse” against the mothers being detained.

When the facility—run by the GEO Group—began receiving mothers and their children at the beginning of August, advocates remembered the conditions and trauma that the families detained at the T. Don Hutto facility had to endure from 2006 to 2009On an ICE directed visit to the Karnes facility last month, mothers complained about the severe cold, poor food quality, and the lack of freedom that they and their children experience on a daily basis, a nearly identical description of initial conditions in the Hutto facility.

Private prison corporations like the GEO Group deal primarily in adult criminal detention, and are not equipped to deal compassionately with vulnerable populations such as recently arrived immigrant families who are seeking asylum. “The recent allegations of sexual abuse don’t surprise me at all,” Grassroots Leadership’s Immigration Projects Director Cristina Parker commented, "I'm sickened, but not surprised." A report jointly released by Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies documents the lousy track record of the GEO Group when it comes to human rights abuses.

Sexual abuse, extortion, and harassment of women alleged at ICE family detention camp in Karnes City

The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mis-September 2014.
The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mis-September 2014.

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 on September 30, 2014 with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demanding the immediate investigation of and swift response to widespread allegations of sexual abuse and harassment at the detention center in Karnes City.

In a press release about the complaint, MALDEF outlined the abuse allegations cited in the complaint to include the exploitation of vulnerable women by facility guards and staff, such as:

removing female detainees from their cells late in the late evening and early morning hours for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts in various parts of the facility, and attempting to cover up these actions;

calling detainees their "novias," or "girlfriends" and requesting sexual favors from female detainees in exchange for money, promises of assistance with their pending immigration cases, and shelter when and if the women are released; and

kissing, fondling and/or groping female detainees in front of other detainees, including children.

The MALDEF release also says that "although this unlawful conduct was reported to Karnes Center personnel, to date, no reasonable actions have been taken to stop or prevent this abuse, or to prevent its escalation."

The GEO Group denied the allegations and ICE had no comment

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