Dimmit County leaders are facing the same question that county commissioners in Jim Wells asked themselves earlier this month: Are the legal and financial risks that come with family detention worth it? Widespread opposition from Jim Wells County residents and concerns about financial and legal liability for the local community led county commissioners to wisely reject the proposal. Now, the Dimmit County Commissioners Court has this item on the agenda for their upcoming Monday, June 27 meeting:
Discussion and appropriate action re: Follow-up on the Inter-Governmental Service Agreement with Dimmit County and ICE for DHS Family Residential Facility at The Studios at Carrizo Springs.
Like the Corrections Corporation of America’s Dilley family detention camp, “The Studios” was a “man camp” for oilfield workers that fell on hard times when the fracking boom went bust in South Texas.
The Studios is owned by Stratton Oilfield Systems, a South Carolina-based company trying to get in on the multi-million dollar “revenue stream” that for-profit, private prison corporations have been enjoying from locking up refugee families since 2014. Here’s a bit about “The Studios” from their website, which still advertises it for its original “map camp” usage:
“Stratton Oilfield Systems is an innovator in providing a completely new concept to workforce housing in the Eagle Ford Shale area: luxury. We understand the physically demanding work in the oilfield as well as the extreme conditions, which is why we have come up with the Studio concept. Every room is a suite.”
In a misguided letter sent to Grassroots Leadership in July, Stratton Vice President Shannon A. Stratton laid out their hope to become the newest company to profit from detaining refugee families:
“I am requesting perhaps your organization can consider using The Studios as a transitional facility from the exiting detention centers. ... The Studios is a minimally secured, 27-acre community, where families could be free to come and go while they await immigration hearings,…” [emphasis added]
A number of things about the letter suggest that Stratton does not know at all what they are getting into, least of all that they thought we could award them a contract. It came with a packet of information that makes it seem as if Stratton expects children detained in their man camp to attend school locally and visit area medical providers. Of course, that is not how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does things.
Especially telling is Stratton’s mistaken belief that an ICE-contracted family detention facility would be a place families could “come and go.” The truth of course is that all family detention facilities are secure facilities (read: prison-like) and detained mothers and children cannot leave on their own.
This matters because this issue is at the heart of a legal challenge that could soon end family detention. U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled last summer that the Obama administration's family detention policy violates an 18-year-old court settlement regarding the detention of migrant children. She ordered the government to release the families by October. But the government has not complied with the judge’s order so attorneys representing detained families filed a motion to enforce it last month.
And there’s more. A Texas court has already found in the existing family detention facilities a probable violation of 54.011(f) by the state. The statute penalizes anyone that assists to detain children and carries civil and criminal penalties. When you add this to the fact that two presidential candidates have stated their opposition to family detention, it could mean that the policy that fills the facility may not even exist next year. Dimmit County could join the long list of small communities left behind after betting their community’s future on detaining immigrants.
Stratton joins UK-based prison company Serco in their confusion about the nature of family detention. Serco tried to sell Jim Wells County Commissioners a similar line, claiming families could leave their proposed facility any time.
Unfortunately, county commissioners in Dimmit can’t seem to get a clear answer on this question despite being in talks about an intergovernmental service agreement for weeks. County Commissioner Mike Uriegas told the San Antonio Express News today that they are still waiting for the truth after a presentation earlier this month. “They did say it was an ‘open’ facility. They didn’t say anything about whether the families could come and go,” Uriegas said. “That’s another question that we have.”
Calls to Stratton Securities, their parent company, were directed to their South Carolina office, where the person answering the phone would not give their name and said they wouldn’t comment on any proposals concerning “The Studios.”