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Immigration quietly increasing number of migrant families detained

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has quietly been increasing the number of migrant families in their detention facilities in South Texas, reports The Monitor.

The number of migrants who are processed through ICE and released locally has dropped significantly, according to the Sacred Heart Immigrant Respite Center in McAllen. Less than a month ago the center saw around 300 migrants a day, with the center now averaging about 90 people per day. People from the respite center and RAICES believe that the number is based off of the number of beds available in Karnes or Dilley family detention centers, which hold primarily Central American mothers and their children seeking asylum.

Last December, a judge in Austin ruled that the two facilities could not be licensed as child care facilities. During the time of the ruling, there were about 1,700 people in Dilley and 600 in Karnes. RAICES, which provide pro bono legal services at the two centers, said the numbers are now closer to 2,000 in Karnes and 700 in Dilley.

A temporary Customs and Border Protection processing center near the Donna-Rio Bravo Port of Entry may also increase the number of migrants ICE can process. By adding an additional processing center, ICE has another facility to process individuals arriving at the border before they are transferred to a different, permanent detention center. This processing center adds to the 12 detention centers already located south of San Antonio. These, like Karnes and Dilly, are operated by for-profit prison companies that contract with the U.S. government.

 

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Big Stories of 2013 - #2 - City of McAllen rejects GEO Group prison for immigrants

As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year.  Our second biggest story of 2013 was the City of McAllen's rejection of a GEO Group prison for immigrants. 

This summer, a battle broke out in McAllen, Texas over the possibility of the city partnering with private prison corporation GEO Group to open a 1,000 bed facility to detain individuals charged with federal crimes for the U.S. Marshals Service. (Full disclosure: my organization, Grassroots Leadership, was involved in the effort to stop the deal).  Under the proposal, the city would have expanded its existing contract with the U.S. Marshals service, and the private company would in turn pay McAllen a portion of the government's daily per-inmate payment.

As Piper reported back in July, the local paper, McAllen Monitor, learned more than year before that city officials had been talking to GEO Group behind closed doors, but agreed not to report it to avoid "tipping off potential competitors and skunking the deal."  The paper later editorialized against the proposal citing concerns about the GEO Group's human rights record, as well as the facility's cost to taxpayers, claiming that private prisons have cost other Texas communities millions of dollars. 

Advocacy organizations and McAllen residents quickly also mobilized opposition to the proposal, citing GEO Group's record and the fact that more than 90% of those detained in the U.S. Marshals custody in the McAllen are being charged with immigration crimes under the controversial Operation Streamline program.  Rio Grande Valley organizations including La Union del Pueblo Entero and Proyecto Azteca allied with statewide groups including the ACLU of Texas, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and Grassroots Leadership to deliver a letter signed by 50 national, state, and local organizations.  

Rio Grande Valley residents also organized a petition signed by 500 community members, turned out overwhelming resident opposition at the city’s public forum, and put together a film screening and private prison panel discussion hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network. 

In the end, the city voted against opening GEO's bid and sent the proposal back to the company unopened (thwarting the possibility that it could have been released to the press or an advocacy group as part of an open records request).   The vote effectively killed the deal for now, though McAllen City officials have raised the possibility that they could revisit the idea of a private prison in the future.  

No GEO for McAllen, says City Commission

Last night, the city commission of McAllen, Texas officially rejected GEO Group's bid to build a private jail. GEO, a Boca Raton, Florida-based company, was the only bidder for the private prision contract.  The proposal stated that a private company would build and operate the facility on property owned by the city.

The city of McAllen would have expanded its existing contract with the U.S. Marshals service, and the private company would in turn pay McAllen a portion of the government's daily per-inmate payment. According to city commissioner Scott Crane, the jail could have generated $3 million to $5 million annually for McAllen. 

Victor Rodriguez, the city's police chief, advised that the city reject the bid. Rodriguez added that the city could consider other options at a later date. If opened, the proposal, which came in a large FedEx box, would have been made public, which The Monitor's report ("McAllen City Commission Rejects Sole Bid for Private Jail," September 23) suggests influenced the city commission's decision. The Monitor and other entities had previously requested to see the document.  The commission voted to reject GEO's proposal without inspecting the proposal.

Opponents of the proposed contract were concerned that the facility would hold immigrants criminally proseucuted for entering the United States without papers, as well as the concept of private jails, which encourages incarceration. 

Advocacy groups attended the meeting as well, including La Union del Pueblo Entero, Proyecto Azteca, the South Texas Civil Rights Project and the Americal Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Astrid Dominguez, advocacy coordinator for the Texas ACLU, claimed:

"I think that if they try to explore some other options, as the police chief mentioned, there's a lot of information about the other groups that we will gladly provide them. All these companies have awful track records."

We'll keep you updated on developments from McAllen.

 

 

McAllen Residents, Newspaper Come Out Against New Private Prison in McAllen

Last week, a public hearing in McAllen allowed citizens to ask questions about a proposed 1,000 bed private prisons to city commissioners, mayor Jim Darling and city manager Mike Perez.    

According to the McAllen Monitor ("At Forum, Crowd Overwhelmingly Opposes McAllen's Private Jail Project," September 11), Florida-based GEO Group put in the only bid to run the proposed facility. Citizens raised concerns regarding the company's previous human rights violations in facilities around the country. The majority of the 60 people in attendance asserted that privatization of prisons allows for mistreatment and misconduct. Previous lawsuits filed against GEO Group pertain to sexual harassment of female employees and prisoner neglect and mistreatment

In addition, the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined GEO Group $104,000, testified Astrid Dominguez who represented the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. "Handing control of prisons over to for-profit companies is a recipe for abuse, neglect and misconduct," Dominguez said at the hearing. 

Over the weekend, The McAllen Monitor published an editorial ("Private jail in McAllen questioned," September 15th) raising serious questions about the proposed facility. The Monitor expressed concern about the GEO Group's civil and human rights violations ,as well as the facility's cost to taxpayers, claiming that private prisons have cost other Texas communities millions of dollars. 

McAllen is the proposed location because the U.S. Marshals Service allegedly needs a facility in close proximity to federal courts.  It appears that McAllen residents may not be convinced that profiting from prisoners is an ethical course of action.

 

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