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Texas private prisons take center stage at U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearings

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At the end of January, I was invited to testify before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about abuses in U.S. immigrant detention system.  My testimony was part of a day full of panels on civil rights violations in immigrant detention centers.  I was joined by fellow Texans Marisa Bono from MALDEF and Sister Norma Pimental, a leader in the refugee relief effort in the Rio Grande Valley this summer. National advocates from the ACLU, National Immigrant Justice Center, and Human Rights Campaign along with government officials joined the panels.

The resurgence of the detention of immigrant families at two remote Texas prisons and violations in private detention centers, including facilities here in Texas often covered by Texas Prison Bid'ness, took center stage.  Notably, Corrections Corporation of America sent a representative to the hearing while rival private prison corporation GEO Group decided not to, eliciting remarks from Committee Chair Marty Castro that he may have to use the Commission's power of subpoena to force the company to come testify.  

My comments focused on the massive and largely for-profit detention system that has dramatically expanded in Texas over the past decade.   I noted that sexual assault has been far from uncommon in Texas' detention centers, including allegations or prosecutions at a half dozen different detention centers.  Even when the same facility has had multiple cases of demonstrated sexual assault, ICE remains unwilling or unable to cut contracts with the facilities or private prison corporations responsible.   I also noted the rise of family detention — a major profit center for private prison corporations — and my recent trip the new Karnes County family detention center.   There I saw small children detained with their mothers who reported that their children are suffering weight loss and that they were threatened with separation from their children if they did not sign their deportation papers.  

Across the board, the recommendation from advocates was to use detention sparingly if at all and dramatically scale back the system.  I'm looking forward to the Commission's final recommendations.  You can watch the full testimony online and read my written testimony here.   

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