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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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GEO Groups' Karnes County family detention center is targeted by advocates over locking up a little girl with cancer

Nayely and Sara2
Nayely and Sara2

The Karnes County family detention center, operated by the GEO Group, was at the center of a scandal over the denial of treatment for a seven year old girl with brain cancer detained inside with her mother. 

Last week Grassroots Leadership highlighted ICE’s refusal to release a Nayely, a seven-year-old with a life threatening brain tumor, from Karnes County Family Detention Center even after her mom, Sara, passed a Credible Fear Interview, the threshold for qualifying for asylum.

ICE's refusal to allow a terminally ill child to bond out of detention to receive treatment is due to a new "no or high bond" policy for immigrants seeking asylum. The policy was enacted to act as a deterrant for people who may be considering seeking asylum here. According to the Houston Chronicle, Nina Pruñeda, an ICE spokeswoman, stated that bond is actually being granted on a case by case basis. Legally, two factors are used to determine bond eligibility: whether the person is a flight risk or a danger to the community. Some advocates might argue that mothers with children are neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community. 

In light of the new policy, we are very happy to report that Nayely and her mom Sara were released from Karnes last week after ICE was overwhelmed by intense media coverage and phone calls from people demanding their immediate release. Nayely's condition was evaluated at Dell Children's Hospital in Austin on Tuesday, September 9th.

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Big Stories of 2013 - #3 - The campaign to Expose and Close the Polk Detention Center

As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year.  Our third biggest story of 2013 was the growing campaign to close the privately-operated Polk County Detention Center in Livingston, Texas. 

About 90 miles northeast of Houston is what many advocates call one of the worst immigration detention centers in the U.S. The Polk County Detention Center in Livingston, Texas is notorious for its substandard conditions, poor quality food and discriminatation against immigrant detainees.  The facility is operated by private prison corporation Community Education Centers.

Protest at Polk
Protest at Polk

In fact, the Polk Detention Center has been attracting the attention of human rights activists in Texas for some time. In November of 2012, Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families released a report on the conditions at Polk and recommended it's immediate closure.

That set the stage for 2013, when the campaign to close Polk ramped up with several actions targeting the facility. One such action came in April when 37 national and Texas-based organizations sent a letter to then-DHS Sec. Janet Napolitano calling for the immediate closure of Polk. The letter read in part: 

"ICE should prioritize release of immigrants into alternatives to detention and community support programs that are far more humane, less costly, and are effective at ensuring immigrants are able to appear at their hearings.  As a first step toward ending inhumane detention, we call for the closure of the IAH Polk County Secure Adult Detention Center." 

And on Father's Day (June 15), a caravan of protestors traveled from Austin and Houston to Polk to hold a vigil for the fathers detained at Polk. The event drew extensive media coverage and even the attention of Representative Lloyd Doggett, who said in a statement:

"I commend you for your efforts in highlighting the mistreatment in some detention centers and support you in your campaign to expose the truth and bring justice to this situation."

Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families also returned to Polk in 2013 to interview detained immigrants about conditions. Unfortunately, they found that nothing had improved since their previous visit in July 2012, and in fact, some things were much worse. 

This prompted the release of a second report on Polk, called "The Top Ten Reasons the Polk County Detention Center Still needs to be Closed." The report cites 10 serious human and civil rights abuses reported by multiple detained immigrants and renews the demand from Texas advocates to close the facility.

The on-going campaign to close Polk was intensified in 2013, setting the stage for advocates and communities to apply more pressure in 2014. 

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