Coalition of Texas Civil and Immigrant Rights Groups Oppose New Private Immigrant Detention Center in Karnes County

February 24, 2011

Groups Call on Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to Prioritize Release and Alternatives to Detention Programs

AUSTIN – Today, a coalition of 15 civil and immigrant rights organizations in Texas sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano expressing opposition to plans by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to contract for a new for-profit “civil” immigration detention center in Karnes County, Texas. The private prison corporation GEO Group would operate the facility.

“No matter how ‘civil’ the Karnes facility is supposed to be, people who should not be detained will be locked-up for a profit. ICE should be utilizing release and community-based alternatives to detention that allow people to remain with their families awaiting their hearings,” said Carmen Llanes of Texans United for Families.

The Karnes detention center would hold immigrants in the lowest security level of ICE custody, including asylum-seekers. The letter, available at, calls on ICE to prioritize release and more humane and cost effective alternatives to detention programs rather than building new detention centers.

A year ago, ICE announced sweeping reforms to its immigration detention system and a desire to move away from isolated detention centers. The advocacy groups expressed disappointment that ICE had used its reform mandate to construct new detention facilities for people who could be released on bond or into alternatives programs.

The letter also criticized the choice of for-profit prison corporation GEO Group as a partner for the new immigration detention center. “While ICE has denied knowledge of problems at the GEO Group’s facilities, the company has a long and very public track record of lawsuits, mismanagement allegations, and canceled contracts at its Texas prisons and detention centers,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership.

A number of GEO Group contracts were terminated in Texas in recent years after serious allegations of abuse and neglect. The suicides of Scot Noble Payne and Randall McCullough and subsequent investigations into squalid conditions preceded the closure of GEO’s Dickens County and Bill Clayton detention centers. In 2007, the Texas Youth Commission shuttered the GEO Group-run Coke County Juvenile Justice Center after a damning investigation into conditions at the youth detention center.

The coalition includes the ACLU of Texas, American Gateways, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, Council on American Islamic Relations-TX, San Antonio, Grassroots Leadership, La Union del Pueblo Entero, People Organizing in Defense of Earth and her Resources, Redes Cuidadanas of Texas, Southwest Workers Union, Texans United for Families, Texas Civil Rights Project, Texas Indigenous Council, Texas Jail Project, WilCo Justice Alliance, and the Workers Defense Project


Bob Libal, (512) 971-0487,