Crossing the border was once a matter for civil immigration courts. Now, every day in federal criminal courts along the Southwest border, hundreds of mostly destitute Latino and indigenous Latin American migrants are shackled, charged, convicted and sentenced en masse under the policy called “Operation Streamline.” The program has proven to be a boon for private prisons by funneling tens of thousands of immigrants into federal prisons every year. Through research and advocacy, Grassroots Leadership is fighting for and end to this program.
Last week, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced that it would terminate its contract with the privately run Texas prison where inmates rioted last month––setting part of the facility on fire––over substandard healthcare, among other abhorrent conditions there.
But observers warn that while there has been an encouraging drop in the number of drug-related incarcerations, the specter of immigration incarceration remains a national priority.
"It's certainly true that there's been a drop in the number of people detained that areincarcerated for drug offenses because of some of the reforms that have been implemented by the Department of Justice," Bob Libal, executive director of the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, told ATTN:. "But what hasn't changed dramatically is a change in the incarceration of immigrants for migration crimes...particularly reentering the country after being deported, which is the second most prosecuted crime in the entire federal system."
"For us, the closure of Willacy is a good thing––the very first step in what we hope are reforms of the prison system that include shuttering all of these CAR contract facilities...continuing drug reforms, but also reforms to the prioritization of immigration prosecution," Libal said. Read more about Texas Private Prison Closed After Rioting Over Poor Conditions
In the March 2nd edition of the San Antonio Express News, an article was printed about the riot that happened at the privately run Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville, Texas. Management Training Company (MTC) was contracted by the federal government to run this facility. Read more about Letter To The Editor: ACA accreditation for Texas prisons doesn't mean much
"The LBJ School of Public Affairs held a conference Friday to discuss violence immigrant women face along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Austin-area immigrants and people in careers affiliated with immigration addressed issues such as rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence experienced by women coming to United States from Central and South America. Speakers also addressed issues concerning women in U.S. immigrant detention centers.
Many women emigrating from their home countries have been victims of violence, and that victimization often continues after they arrive in the U.S., according to Laurie Cook Heffron, researcher program coordinator at UT’s Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault." Read more about Immigrant women likely to encounter violence after crossing the border, panelists say
"Why did a few thousand immigrants imprisoned in South Texas riot last week against the nice private prison corporation that was housing them? Management and Training Corp.'s (MTC) version of events is that its inmates 'refused to participate in regular work duties or attend breakfast early Friday morning,' which certainly seems like an unreasonable thing for an inmate to do.
The inmates then somehow broke out of their housing units, forcing the company to bring in multiple government agencies to lock the place down and also forcing a partial lock-down of the local school district in Willacy County.
MTC had been running its prison under a contract with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, housing illegal immigrants in pre-detention, but in 2011 things went haywire. In a PBS report, a former health worker at the prison testified to 'women harassed for sexual favors, guards taking detainees and beating them, running them down like they were animals,' among other abuses. That year, ICE canceled its contract with the corporation, leaving MTC's 3,174 beds severely underused.
That is, they were underused briefly. Not long after, MTC and Willacy County arranged a contract with the Bureau of Prisons for a facility that would be an upgrade, of sorts: it would become a Criminal Alien Requirement prison, or CAR prison, for immigrants caught crossing the border illegally or convicted of felonies. There are 13 such prisons in the United States, five in Texas. 'We know them to be the worst of the worst," says Cristina Parker, who covers immigration for the advocacy group Grassroots Leadership. "They don't meet the federal standards the way that even very bad federal prisons do.'" Read more about South Texas Prison Riot Probably Happened Because Texas' Immigrant Prisons Are Awful
Prison officials in Texas are in the process of transferring around 2800 inmates from the Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville after a prisoner uprising over the weekend reportedly left the tent city prison complex “uninhabitable.”
The prison started off as a facility for holding civil immigration detainees, but lost its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement after repeated and persistent reports of abuse and substandard conditions. The company that owns and operates the facility — Management & Training Corp — later won a massive contract with the federal Bureau of Prisons to hold non-citizens convicted of criminal offenses.
The uprising in the Raymondville prison camp came on the same day a federal judge ruled against holding mothers and children in immigration detention while awaiting the outcome of asylum claims.
Says Bob Libal, "This facility is operated by the private prison corporation, Management and Training Corporation, which is a Utah-based company, but the others are operated by the giant private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group.
These are facilities that have a long record of really abysmal conditions. In fact, the facility where the uprising happened this weekend was so plagued with abuse and mismanagement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement actually ended its contract in 2011, but then the Bureau of Prisons stepped in a gave this facility a new contract worth more than half a billion dollars to incarcerate 2800 immigrants on any given day in a series of Kevlar pods. The facility is nicknamed “tent city” or “Ritmo” – the Raymondville Gitmo – because of both the appalling conditions and just how huge of an incarceration camp it is." Read more about Immigration: conditions spark uprising in Texas prison; court orders women/children seeking asylum freed
"The latest uprising at the Willacy County Correctional Center began quietly on Friday morning, when prisoners refused to go to their work assignments or to breakfast. Then, inmates broke out of the massive Kevlar tents that serve as dorms. Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence told reporters some had kitchen knives, sharpened mops and brooms. Prison officials sprayed tear gas; a SWAT team, the Texas Rangers, the FBI and the US Border Patrol all showed up. It took two days to quell the demonstration. Now administrators are beginning to transfer the 2,800 prisoners—undocumented immigrants, most serving time for low-level offenses—to other facilities, because the protest made the center 'uninhabitable.'
CAR prisons are distinct from the detention facilities maintained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, but they aren’t run like most BOP facilities either. Most CAR prisoners don’t have access to attorneys, and because the BOP assumes they will be deported after serving their time, they are denied some services and considerations afforded to others in the corrections system, such as work training or drug treatment programs. Bob Libal, the executive director of a Texas prison reform group called Grassroots Leadership, explained the BOP’s reasoning: 'In a system with scarce resources, why should we be giving them to immigrants who are just going to get deported?'" Read more about A 2-Day Revolt at a Texas Private Prison Reveals Everything That’s Wrong with Criminalizing Immigration
"A riot that broke out last week left a private prison in Texas 'uninhabitable,' forcing the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to begin relocating nearly 3,000 inmates held at the facility.
The rioting began during breakfast Friday morning at the Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville, about 40 miles from the Mexican border. The inmates — mostly immigrants held for non-violent offenses — broke out into the recreation yard and set fire to three Kevlar tents that each housed about 200 men.
'It should of no surprise to anyone that this happened at Willacy," Bob Libal, executive director of the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, told VICE News. "This is a facility that for years has been plagued by physical and sexual abuse and neglect, and it's really a place where immigrants are incarcerated and warehoused by a private prison corporation that's making hundreds of millions of dollars off of their incarceration, and clearly investing very little of it for the people that are detained there.'" Read more about Texas Private Prison Left 'Uninhabitable' After Immigrant Detainees Riot Over Poor Conditions
"'The war on immigrants is surpassing efforts to reform the war on drugs,' said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a criminal justice advocacy group. 'We will not be able to reduce the federal prison population unless we stop prosecuting so many people for immigration violations.'
Things are looking grim for immigrants due to provisions in immigration legislation passed by the Senate in June, and more stringent measures being considered by the House that would increase arrests and prosecutions of those crossing the border. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate immigration legislation estimated that increased funding for enforcement and prosecution of undocumented immigrants in the bill would result in an additional 14,000 inmates per year in the federal prison system, at a cost of $1.6 billion over the next decade." Read more about "Operation Streamline": The New Prison Boom
The policies of criminally prosecuting migrants have built a shadow detention system on top of our nation’s already vast and troubled system of civil detention...Individuals in our nation’s civil detention system include asylum-seekers, women with children, parents of U.S. citizen children, long-time legal permanent residents, and recently arriving migrants. -Bob Libal
Grassroots Leadership's Executive Director Bob Libal will testify before the U.S. Comission on Civil Rights at the State of Civil Rights in Detention Facilities hearing at 2:30pm (EST). Bob's testimony will include evidence that creating and expanding an unaccountable for-profit detention system ineheretly violates the civil rights of immigrants. There are countless examples of civil rights violations in the vast network of immigrant detention facilities that are mandatorily filled due to the 34,000 bed quota set by Congress in a 2007 appropriations bill. Operation Streamline, as Bob describes in his testimony, has criminalized the act of immigration and is another means to expand the reach of the private prison industry in the federal prison system. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is unable to maintain enough facilities, so it contracts with private prison corporations—namely Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group—which have a vested interest in maintaining and expanding detention for immigrants because it provides them with a wider income stream.Read more about Bob Libal to testify before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights