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.
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." [node:read-more:link]
"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?'" [node:read-more:link]
"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.'" [node:read-more:link]
"'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." [node:read-more:link]
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.[node:read-more:link]
The reason migration on the southern border is currently at its lowest point in over four decades is not Operation Streamline, but the economic downturn in the United States.
The costs of this ineffective program are staggering. According to a 2012 Grassroots Leadership report, since 2005, when Operation Streamline began, the federal government has spent an estimated $5.5 billion incarcerating undocumented immigrants in the criminal-justice system. Much of this money is funneled to private-prison corporations, the two largest of which are Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. [node:read-more:link]
Yesterday, Grassroots Leadership board member Megan Quattlebaum’s piece in the Huffington Post called out the federal government, and specifically the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), for seriously slacking on criminal justice reform. Her post, “States Lead - Will the Feds Follow?”, shines a light on the fact that while states across the country are taking steps toward progress, the federal government is shamefully lagging behind.
One way they have fallen behind is in the treatment of women prisoners. While states like Iowa and Washington are putting the concept of “gender responsive” prison programming into practice, the BOP has closed the only minimum security facility for women in the Northeast, converting it to a prison for men only. As a result, some women were transferred far from their families and communities, making it particularly difficult for children to maintain connections to their incarcerated mothers.[node:read-more:link]