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Grassroots Leadership decries return of for-profit immigrant family detention in Texas

July 18, 2014

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) plans to detain children and families fleeing violence at a for-profit prison in Karnes City, Texas

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Grassroots Leadership is deeply disappointed by the announcement today that the Karnes County Civil Detention Center southeast of San Antonio will be used to detain families and children fleeing violence in Central America.

The 600-bed Karnes County Detention Center is operated by for-profit private prison company GEO Group which has a long history of prisoner abuse, lawsuits alleging human rights violations, and deaths in custody.

The last time family detention was used in Texas, it became a national embarrassment as children and babies detained at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center wore prison uniforms, lived in locked prison cells with open-toilets, were subjected to highly restricted movement, and threatened with alarming disciplinary tactics, including threats of separation from their parents if they cried too much or played too loudly. Medical treatment was inadequate and children as young as one lost weight.

“Given ICE’s shameful record of detaining immigrant families at the for-profit T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center, returning to mass family detention and deportation is a giant step backwards,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership.  “The experience at Hutto was abysmal, and we shouldn’t allow the return of such treatment of asylum-seeking families.”

The Hutto Detention Center was also operated by a for-profit private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, and was subject to a lawsuit by the ACLU and the University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic contending that conditions at the facility violated minimum standards of care for detained children.   

The Obama administration eventually ended the practice of detaining families at Hutto in 2009 after civil rights advocates argued that the facility was not appropriate for children and families who have already suffered trauma and have come to the U.S. seeking refuge.  Since 2009, family detention has been limited at a facility with less than 100 beds in Berks County, PA.  A supplemental spending bill sent to Congress by the Obama administration would expand family to 6,300 beds.     

The Karnes County detention center is more than an hour’s drive from an urban center, making it difficult for legal professionals, people of faith, and the local community to monitor human rights abuses inside the facility.  Currently, the facility does not have legal services for immigrants detained at the facility.

There are other options. Alternatives to detention have been shown to be effective in ensuring appearance in immigration proceedings. They are also significantly less expensive than detention, and far more appropriate for families with children. Families should also be accorded special consideration befitting their unique vulnerabilities and circumstances.

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For immediate release: July 18, 2014

Contact: Bob Libal, Grassroots Leadership, (512) 971-0487, blibal@grassrootsleadership.org