AUSTIN — Saturday more than 80 community members from Austin, San Antonio, Laredo, and the Rio Grande Valley caravanned to the Laredo Processing Center for a rally to call for the freedom of detained mom, Melvin Griselda Cruz-Lopez. They called on ICE to release her immediately and protested endemic abuse at the for-profit immigration prison operated by CoreCivic, where immigrants are sent in retaliation for speaking up for their rights. Read more about Immigrant advocates from across Texas joined caravan to Laredo Saturday to demand freedom for detained mom, Griselda
WHAT: Rally & Caravan
WHO: Grassroots Leadership, Laredo Immigrant Alliance, Austin Democratic Socialists of America Immigrant Rights Committee
WHEN: Saturday, January 12 at 1:30pm
WHERE: CoreCivic Laredo Processing Center Read more about Formerly detained women, immigrant advocates join caravan to Laredo to demand freedom for detained mom, Griselda
WHAT: Visitors line up to show support for Laura Monterrosa at Hutto Detention Center
WHEN: Wednesday, February 14 at 11 AM
WHERE: Hutto Detention Center, 1001 Welch Street, Taylor, TX 76574 Read more about Victim of Sexual Abuse at Hutto Detention Center Forced Into Solitary Confinement, ICE Demands Laura Recant Testimony
(AUSTIN, Texas) — This week, two additional women joined Laura Monterrosa in speaking out about sexual abuse at Hutto. One woman currently detained in Laredo, “Ana”, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of further retaliation said in a visit with Grassroots Leadership staff: Read more about BREAKING: More women join Laura Monterrosa in speaking out about sexual abuse by guards at Hutto immigrant detention center
AUSTIN — A letter received by advocates at Grassroots Leadership last week from inside the Hutto immigrant detention center describes sexual assaults against two women at the T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center in Taylor, Texas and names two different guards as perpetrators. Laura Monterrosa describes a pattern of sexual assault at Hutto that she has endured since June. Read more about Courageous woman, Laura Monterrosa, speaks out on sexual assaults at Hutto immigrant detention center
(Austin, Texas) — Yesterday Austin advocates launched a campaign demanding the release of Brenda Menjivar Guardado, a young woman from El Salvador who is experiencing serious symptoms related to improper treatment of diabetes by medical staff at the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas. Read more about Diabetic woman detained at Hutto in urgent need of emergency care for improper treatment: Attorney’s request for medical release was denied this morning
This week, Texas lawmakers advanced a bill crafted by for-profit prison interests that would license lockups for asylum-seeking immigrant families as child care providers.
Senate Bill 1018, which would lower state standards for two South Texas immigrant detention centers so they can qualify as Texas-approved "family residential centers," passed its first hurdle in the Texas Senate on Tuesday with a 20-11 vote along party lines. Immigrant rights advocates opposed to it say it's just the state's latest attempt to help keep the family lockups open as federal court orders threaten to shutter them. Democratic lawmakers fighting the bill say it would license "baby jails."
The feds' last foray into family detention was at the infamous T. Don Hutto detention center in central Texas that was run by CCA. There, immigration lawyers and human rights activists complained of children dressed in prison-like jumpsuits and kept in small cells for 14 hours a day. A legal challenge by the ACLU ultimately forced the feds to pull children out of Hutto in 2009, citing a longstanding legal settlement that was supposed to bar the feds from ever again holding immigrant kids in a prison-like environment.
Which is why lawyers challenged the practice of holding kids at Dilley and Karnes, sometimes for months. A year after they opened, a federal judge in California delivered a pair of court rulings that unambiguously condemned the practice of child detention, writing that the government hadn't provided "any competent evidence" to support its argument for jailing asylum-seeking families as a default measure. As part of her ruling, the judge said the feds couldn’t hold kids in facilities that aren’t licensed to house or care for children.
Advocacy groups like Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, which has criticized the conditions immigrants are housed in at Dilley and Karnes, thought the courts were on the verge of forcing an end to family detention. After all, when dealing with complaints over facilities like Hutto, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services had previously insisted it had no oversight role over private prison-run immigrant detention centers that house children in Texas and couldn't license them or hold them to a higher standard.
Grassroots had to sue to force Texas child welfare officials to even hold apublic hearing on the matter, which did not go particularly well for the agency. Child welfare experts, immigrant rights advocates, former immigrant detainees and even a woman born behind barbed wire in a Japanese internment camp condemned the practice of family detention and insisted state licensing would only enable a practice that's destructive to healthy child development. Mothers spoke of being separated from their children for extended periods of time and inadequate medical care. Mental health experts who'd visited the facilities spoke of children losing weight, shedding hair and exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and depression in lockup. Social workers claimed they'd been reprimanded by private prison staff for trying to help suffering mothers or children navigate the facility's grievance process.
Then last December, a Travis County judge blocked DFPS from licensing the child lockups, ruling that the state can't arbitrarily lower its standards in order to cover a couple of private prison facilities.
So lobbyists with the GEO Group, which operates the Karnes detention center, decided to try another route. As the Associated Press reported last month, the company helped draft the proposal now snaking through the Texas Legislature that would give DFPS the authority to license the detention centers. Its supporters argue it's a way to ensure families aren't separated in detention; Democrats arguing against the measure in the Senate Tuesday called it a "vendor bill."
If the bill passes a third reading in the Senate, it moves on to the state House. Still, it's unclear whether lawmakers will have enough time to send the measure to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk before the fast-approaching end of the session on May 29.
But to Grassroots executive director Bob Libal, whose group sued the state over the licensing issue, the episode constitutes just another state attempt to help private prison corporations keep alive the controversial practice of family detention.
"The push to license the family jails has never been about protecting children, but about protecting the profits of private prison companies," Libal said in a prepared statement last month. "The state should stand up to these interests and for the rights of children and reject these unjust bills." Read more about Will Texas Lawmakers License "Baby Jails" For Asylum-Seeking Families?
In a February 22 call with investors, the private prison corporation GEO Group openly boasted that the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants is boosting its bottom line and fueling its expansion.
One of the largest private prison companies in the world, GEO Group, stands accused of widespread human rights violations, including charges that the company forced tens of thousands of immigrants in ICE detention at the Aurora, Colorado Denver Contract Detention Facility to perform slave labor. GEO Group’s Karnes family detention center in Texas, where mothers are incarcerated with their children, has been the site of repeated hunger strikes over poor conditions and indefinite detention.
Speaking with investors (transcript is available here), David Donahue, the President of GEO Corrections and Detention, directly cited the Trump administration’s “deportation force” as a boon to business.
Speaking with investors, chairman and chief executive officer George Zoley gloated, “We’re very pleased with our strong fourth quarter and year end results and our outlook for 2017," adding: “It is gratifying to see GEO’s continued financial success.”
Zoley went on to directly cite Trump’s anti-immigrant executive orders as a boon to business, proclaiming:
With respect to detention services, in support of border security, we would continue to be the largest provider of detention services to the three federal agencies — that is to ICE, the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service. With this increased and expanded approach to border security, the first agency that will need additional capacity is ICE. Border Patrol will catch individuals and then send them to an ICE facility. Subsequently, there will be a need by the U.S. Marshals Service for those people that have committed criminal acts and need to be detained for adjudication. And further on down the line, BOP will need additional capacity as well for those people who’ve been sentenced and need to serve their time in one of the CAR facilities.
So it’s really an escalation of capacity need for all three federal agencies as a result of the president’s new executive orders redirecting the approach to border security for the three federal agencies.
The advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership blasted the company for profiting from Trump’s plans to implement mass deportations. "While immigrant communities are being terrorized by raids, the private prison industry is quietly celebrating a potential boom in business,” said Bob Libal, the executive director of the organization. “Prison companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America are preparing for an enormous expansion to detention under this administration. Mass deportations should make our country ashamed, not make private prison executives rich." Read more about Private Prison Execs Are Gloating Over Soaring Profits from Trump's Mass Deportation Agenda
A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) subcommittee has decided that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should continue contracting with private prison companies, which have come under fire for their incidents of preventable deaths and allegations that detainees are abused and mistreated.
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson tasked the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) with creating a subcommittee to review ICE’s use of private prison companies like the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, whichrecently rebranded as CoreCivic. Opponents of private prison companies have pointed to allegations of human rights abuses, including incidents of sexual abuse, as a primary reason for the closure of facilities operated by the GEO Group and CoreCivic.
HSAC released the report on December 1 after conducting interviews with detention experts, executives from the major private detention companies, and representatives from national and local immigration advocacy groups, according to the report. Members of the subcommittee also visited two ICE detention facilities, one owned and operated by ICE and the other owned and operated by a private for-profit prison company.
A fear among advocates—including Bob Libal, executive director of the Austin, Texas-based immigrant rights’ organization Grassroots Leadership—is that ICE will not be held accountable for the growing number of deaths at for-profit prisons. In Raquel Calderon de Hildago’s case, she was being held at CoreCivic-run Eloy Detention Center, which is considered by migrants as one of the worst places to be detained, when she had a series of seizures. She was transferred by paramedics to a nearby hospital, where she died on November 27 at the age of 36. As the Arizona Republic reported, “At the time of her death, she was awaiting deportation to Guatemala, ICE officials said. ICE said database checks indicate she had no criminal history in the U.S.”
Libal told Rewire in a phone interview that he was “heartened” by HSAC rejecting the report’s core recommendation at the hearing this week.
Libal said that while it’s “somewhat heartening” that the committee dissented, it’s important to get to the heart of the “real issue”: The reason ICE can’t extract itself from contracts with companies like CoreCivic and GEO is because there are too many people in detention—and more expected in the coming months. Any plans for mass deportation, as the president-elect has proposed, require an immediate increase in detention, as migrants awaiting their deportations are placed into detention centers for weeks and sometimes even years. This is an issue that rests squarely on the shoulders of both ICE and the Obama administration, Libal said.
“My hope, and I think a hope of a lot of advocates, was that the report would recommend that ICE reduce the number of people detained, but the report made no such recommendation,” the executive director said.
Moving forward, there are a lot of unknowns about the detention system and how it will continue to take shape. This week, the U.S. government argued at the U.S. Supreme Court that certain migrants in detention shouldn’t qualify for bond hearings after being detained for at least six months. The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy organizations are pushing back against these policies, arguing that all migrants in detention deserve legal protections and due process. Libal said it is this kind of pushback that will be needed more than ever as we enter a new administration intent on further criminalizing and targeting migrants for prolonged detention and deportation.
“We are preparing for what could be one of the darkest times in our nation’s history,” Libal said. “We are handing over the keys to a human rights violation machine to Donald Trump’s immigration force—and that is the fault of this administration. The level of detention dictated why [the subcommittee] felt so beholden to private prison interests. If we had a quarter of people in immigration detention that we do, this would be a much easier problem to solve. And the fact that ICE continues to promote reliance on detention over release from detention or community-supported alternatives is the other reason we have this huge problem.” Read more about Department of Homeland Security Will Continue Contracting With Private Prison Companies
Separately, the election of Donald Trump as president of the US has activists worried that the steps taken by the Obama administration to reduce the population of inmates in private prisons will be quickly rolled back. Trump has said outright that he supports prison privatization, and his plans for cracking down on illegal immigration would be a boon for prison operators: the stock prices of CCA and the Geo Group soared following his election.
“We are actually anticipating that the DOJ decision be quite possibly overturned. Either formally or they would be renewals or re-granting of the full contracts,” said Bethany Carson at Grassroots Leadership, a prison advocacy organization.
What has Carson and her group particularly worried is the president-elect’s promise to introduce mandatory minimums for illegal re-entry convictions after a previous deportation. Illegal entry and re-entry convictions already make up nearly half of federal prosecutions. The convicts are mostly held in thirteen so-called “Criminal Alien Requirement” (CAR) prisons, run by private companies, largely CoreCivic and GEO. Both facilities with which the BOP extended its contracts are CAR prisons.
Carson said that mandatory minimums would send average sentences for re-entry “through the roof,” and would require expanding the private prisons the DOJ said it would close in August.
“Expanding this existing system that federally prosecutes immigrants just for crossing the border to reunite with their families or flee dangerous situations could be one way to quite literally manufacture the so-called criminals he wants to deport,” said Carson. Read more about The US government is already quietly backing out of its promise to phase out private prisons