The mood was solemn at the vigil as protesters were confronted with the renewal of mass family detention of refugee children and families from Central America. The Obama Administration has announced the opening of a family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico and has begun detaining families at a GEO Group-operated facility in Karnes County, Texas. The administration has asked for funding for up to 6,300 family detention beds across the country.[node:read-more:link]
In the last month, the reaction to the rise in refugee children and families from Central America at the southern border has been decidedly mixed. On one hand, faith groups and residents of border communities have rallied to provide relief for migrants often badly depleted after a long and dangerous journey. On the other hand, vigilantes and their political allies have used the humanitarian crisis to call for an even more militarized border and draconian enforcement efforts. [node:read-more:link]
Several groups launched a campaign today to stop the creation of immigrant family detention centers.
"This is something that's been announced in the last month, that the Obama Administration is returning to the practice of detaining immigrant and refugee families in mass," says Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership.
... "We think that putting little kids behind prison walls particularly prison walls operated by a for profit prison corporation is absolutely the wrong thing," says Libal. [node:read-more:link]
...[An] ICE official said the agency had no choice in picking GEO. The contract, he explained, is not through ICE but through Karnes County.
Bob Libal says subcontracting is part of the strategy GEO has used to stay in business despite persistent lawsuits. Libal leads Grassroots Leadership – a nonprofit organization that, among other things, researches the shortcomings of for-profit prison corporations.
"Whenever anything goes wrong ICE says, ‘This is not our problem, this is the county's problem,’” Libal says. “But really, you have layers of lack of transparency and lack of accountability that are built into these contracts.”
Libal says GEO is Texas' first choice to run detention centers, prisons and mental health facilities in part because they save the state money by cutting costs.
But he also notes the group is a very generous political contributor at the state and federal levels, and has one of the strongest lobbying teams he’s ever seen. Two members of the company’s board of directors are former members of the George W. Bush administration; Libal says there’s a sort of “buddy-buddy” relationship within GEO's county contract negotiations. [node:read-more:link]
... Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy organization that has campaigned against family detention and the for-profit prison industry, said the government would likely be eager to keep contracting family detention centers to private companies.
“It’s an easy solution for the government because there are private prison corporations that have excess capacity, particularly today, with declining state prison populations,” he said. “And it’s about influence -- private prison corporations are enormously powerful, particularly in immigration.” Libal noted that Julie Myers Wood, former head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is a member of GEO Group’s board of directors, and that David Venturella, former head of the "Secure Communities" enforcement program, is now a GEO Group senior vice president .... [node:read-more:link]
Reports have started to emerge from Artesia, New Mexico, suggesting that conditions are dangerous and unhealthy inside the family detention center that was created almost overnight at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). Others have expressed concerns that procedures within the detention center present a threat to due process that could result in women and children who have sought refuge at the U.S.-Mexico border being sent back into harm's way.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has allowed some to tour the facility, including Tannia Esparza, executive director of Young Women United. Esparza told the Associated Press that the women she visited in Artesia reported that children were sick with coughs and diarrhea but were not given medication and that pregnant women are being targeted for quick deportation.
President Barack Obama will be in Texas this week for a fundraising event in Austin. He will also be meeting with Texas Governor Rick Perry to discuss the government’s response to an increase in the number of Central American children and families coming to the Texas-Mexico border to seek asylum.
While many communities in Texas have responded by opening their arms to provide shelter to unaccompanied children, the Obama administration has requested an additional $3.7 billion in money that would mostly be spent on border enforcement, detention, and deportation. This comes despite the fact that federal spending on immigration enforcement already surpasses all other federal law enforcement activities combined.
Included in the supplemental spending request is $897 million to detain and deport refugee families. Reports have emerged from D.C. that the administration may be considering more than 6,000 new family detention beds, up from only 80 beds currently detaining families. The administration has already begun sending asylum-seeking refugee families to be housed at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artisia, New Mexico.
A long list of organizations signed a letter delivered today to Department of Homeland Security officials today asking them to look for alternatives to detention for families and children seeking refuge at the border.
Citing the lawsuit, human rights abuses and national outcry that surrounded the end of family detention at the T. Don Hutto facility, the last family detention center in Texas, they argue that there are alternatives to lock-up for refugee families.
The last time family detention was used at the facility, reports emerged that children as young as eight months old wore prison uniforms, lived in locked prison cells with open- toilets, subjected to highly restricted movement, and threatened with alarming disciplinary tactics, including threats of separation from their parents if they cried too much or played too loudly. Medical treatment was inadequate and children as young as one lost weight.
The letter reads in part: “While the administration is understandably under pressure to respond to the current humanitarian crisis at the border, locking babies in prison cells and deporting women and young children to dangerous situations are not the solution.”[node:read-more:link]
Neither immgrants' rights groups or lawmakers have received the plan positively.
“Returning to mass family detention and deportation policies is a giant step backwards," said Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based group that opposes private immigration detention centers and advocates for immigration reform. [node:read-more:link]