In the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, business as usual: ICE awards a nearly $50 million contract to keep the Houston Processing Center open for the next decade

March 24, 2020

Houston, TX — Last week Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) awarded the Houston Processing Center a nearly $50 million contract to keep the for-profit immigration detention facility open for the next decade. The 10-year contract is the first of a three facility solicitation for increased detention capacity in Texas that ICE initiated in November. The other two facilities are the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, Texas and the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas. All three are operated by for-profit prison corporations.

“ICE is exploiting this moment of crisis to quietly expand the immigration detention system,” said Bethany Carson, Immigration Policy Researcher and Organizer at Grassroots Leadership. “Doctors and advocates alike have been sounding the alarm for weeks that people in detention are sitting ducks in a system notorious for its fatally flawed medical care and abysmal conditions. We need to release people from detention now instead of expanding the system.”

The Houston Processing Center, operated by CoreCivic, was the nation’s first private prison, opening in1984. Since 2003, the Houston Processing Center has reported at least nine deaths in which ICE’s own investigations have identified more than a dozen violations of government detention standards with no record of improvement. 

All three detention centers are operated by private prison companies and are known to have facilitated family separations, as well as a wide range of mistreatment and abuse, including deaths and sexual assault. 

At the South Texas Detention Complex, operated by private prison giant GEO Group, people inside the facility have reported that groups of detained people are participating in worker strikes in protest to ICE neglecting those showing signs of illness consistent with COVID-19. There are also alarming reports of ICE tear gassing detained immigrants.

“We’re hearing there’s very little food, and we don’t know if it’s because of lack of personnel or if there is a food shortage in the detention center,” added Carson. 

“Immigrants detained at Pearsall report they are no longer allowed to see the doctor or watch TV, and they’re afraid of the phone lines being cut off. Detention is no place for anyone, and allowing people to remain there during a pandemic after ICE has proven they are not capable of taking care of people in their custody is a recipe for disaster.”

Now advocates are urgently calling on ICE to release people from detention and end the solicitation of future immigration detention contracts, a demand that has widespread community and congressional support. In January, Texas Representatives sent a letter urging ICE to immediately suspend the current solicitation for the facilities in violation of federal procurement laws. 

“Any available federal funding should be used for the expansion of critical supplies for health care workers, testing and treatment for all as the coronavirus continues to spread -- not on detaining immigrants,” said Gaby Viera, Advocacy Associate at Detention Watch Network. “Members of Congress must fight to protect the immigrant community, call for the immediate release of people in detention, and advocate for significant cuts in funding to these abusive and deadly agencies.”

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Contact: 

Maria Reza, mreza@grassrootsleadership.org