KARNES CITY, TX –The opening of a new immigrant detention center in Karnes City -- to be managed by a for-profit prison company with a long history of prisoner abuse, deaths in custody and lawsuits -- is a bad deal, a coalition of civil rights, faith and immigrants rights groups said Tuesday.
The detention center, a 600-bed facility to be operated by the private prison corporation GEO Group, is the first in a series of planned “civil” detention centers across the country. The Karnes detention center will hold immigrants in the lowest security level of DHS/ICE custody, including asylum-seekers and other vulnerable populations. ICE detains almost 400,000 immigrants each year, in approximately 250 facilities throughout the country, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $2 billion.
“No matter how ‘civil’ the Karnes facility is supposed to be, it will continue to lock up immigrants who should not be detained,” said Krystal Gomez of the ACLU of Texas. “ICE should prioritize release and community-based alternatives to detention that allow people to remain with their families awaiting their hearings, rather than codifying a system of for-profit detention.”
At a Tuesday press conference preceding a tour of the facility, the groups raised concerns regarding ICE’s approach to reforming the immigration detention system and the GEO Group’s horrific record.
The groups 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, an Austin-based spokesperson for Grassroots Leadership.
A number of GEO Group contracts have been 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 groups also expressed concern that the facility was built more than an hour’s drive from an urban center. The rural location makes it difficult for families to visit and for individuals in detention to access legal or social services support as they navigate complicated legal proceedings.
Last year, 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 to be operated by private prison corporation GEO Group.
In 2009, ICE announced plans for sweeping reforms to its immigration detention system, including an intention to reduce the use of isolated detention centers. The groups expressed disappointment that ICE had used its reform mandate to construct new detention facilities for people who could be released on parole, bond, or into alternatives programs. Despite ICE’s commitment to reduce its reliance on jails, a full 50 percent of ICE’s detained population continues to be held in actual jails.
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