Karnes

Dec 10, 2015
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Houston Press

Experts Urge Texas Not to License Immigration Lockups As "Child Care" Centers

Child welfare experts, immigrant rights advocates, former immigrant detainees and even a woman born behind barbed wire in a Japanese internment camp are urging Texas not to license federal immigration lockups as “child care” centers.

Officials with the Texas Department of Family Services heard some three hours of testimony Wednesday from more than 40 witnesses deeply troubled by the agency’s plan to create a whole new child care licensing category for two facilities that primarily detain asylum-seeking women and children. The compounds, built in the tiny, geographically isolated South Texas towns of Karnes and Dilley, are run by the same private prison behemoths that have seen profits soar with the rise in immigration enforcement and detention.

Such “family residential centers,” as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials call them, have come under fire not just by advocates but also by the courts. This summer, a federal judge in California ruled that the family lockups violate a longstanding legal settlement designed to keep the feds from ever again holding immigrant children in prison-like conditions. As the feds scrambled to comply with the judge’s ruling, Texas came in with the assist: state child protection officials would call it an “emergency,” fast-track the process of creating a whole new category for family detention centers and potentially license the facilities without even giving the public opportunity to vet or comment on the plan.

Immigrant rights advocates were appalled that Texas would try to save the distasteful practice of family detention. Child welfare experts, who contend the type of family detention employed by ICE is damaging to child development, were floored by the plan, saying Texas was lowering its child care standards to meet those of ICE.

Late last month, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Austin-based advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, a state district judged ruled no such “emergency” existed and that the state couldn’t bypass the normal process. DFPS was forced to hold a public comment period. Read more about Experts Urge Texas Not to License Immigration Lockups As "Child Care" Centers

Judge prohibits Texas from licensing family detention centers as childcare facilities

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Grassroots Leadership today won a temporary injunction in its suit to stop the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services from licensing family detention centers in Karnes and Dilley as childcare facilities under an emergency rule.  The emergency rule actually eliminated minimum child safety standards applicable to all childcare facilities in Texas.   Read more about Judge prohibits Texas from licensing family detention centers as childcare facilities

Oct 22, 2015
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The Texas Tribune

Lawsuit Aims to Prevent Licensing of Detention Centers

A watchdog group is suing the agency charged with protecting the state’s most vulnerable Texans, alleging the department fast-tracked a policy change that might help the federal government convince a federal judge to reverse her order shutting down two immigration detention centers in Texas.

The lawsuit by Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit group opposed to for-profit prisons, filed in a Travis County state district court, claims that by adopting an emergency rule in September, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services can issue temporary licenses to privately run detention centers in Karnes City and Dilley without publicly detailing how it will ensure the safety and well-being of the immigrants. Read more about Lawsuit Aims to Prevent Licensing of Detention Centers

Oct 23, 2015
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Huffington Post

Pennsylvania Warns Family Immigrant Detention Center: Change Policies Or Lose Your License

One of the three facilities that detains immigrant families in the United States will not be allowed to expand and could lose its license to operate from the state of Pennsylvania -- a major win for the advocacy groups aiming to shut down family detention.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services sent a letter on Thursday to the director of Berks County Residential Center denying a request to double its capacity from 96 to 192. That is because the facility is being used to hold "only refugee immigrant families" when its license is for "child resident facilities," Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas wrote.

If the facility continues to serve families rather than children, the department will not renew its license when it expires in February 2016, Dallas added.

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In July, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled that the family detention policy violated the 1997 Flores settlement, which says that undocumented children must be held in the least restrictive setting and immigration authorities should generally favor a policy of releasing them. The settlement prohibits detaining children for more than a few days in centers that are not licensed child care facilities.

After hearing a government response, Gee ordered the Obama administration in August to quickly release the children -- and in some instances, the mothers -- locked in family detention. She gave U.S. officials until Oct. 23 to show compliance. 

In order to comply with the ruling, the private companies that run the two family detention centers in Texas -- Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group -- have applied to license the centers as child care facilities. The Texas Department of Child Protective Services issued an emergency rule last month to start the licensing process, but the Austin-based group Grassroots Leadership, which opposes the private prison industry, filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping it. Read more about Pennsylvania Warns Family Immigrant Detention Center: Change Policies Or Lose Your License

Sep 22, 2015
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Houston Press

ICE Awards Contract to Private Prison Company That Was Just Slammed in Federal Report

Last Thursday, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a report admonishing government officials over the treatment of immigrants held at private prisons that contract with federal immigration authorities. Detailed in the report were a litany of alleged abuses at those detention centers, many of which are in Texas, from denying immigrants proper medical care to retaliation from prison staff and possible constitutional rights violations.

Yet on that very same day, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced a new multimillion-dollar contract with one of the companies accused of holding immigrants in “inhumane” conditions that are “inconsistent with American values.” Advocates and immigration attorneys say they fear the new contract, for a pilot program to test a probation-like system for immigrant families released from lockup, only further expands the private prison industry's reach in the U.S. immigration system.

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Perhaps the Geo contract, while troubling to advocates, shouldn't be entirely unexpected. Federal immigration officials have before ignored calls for ICE to wean itself off private prison companies. For instance, this 2009 report, commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security and written by a former director of the federal Office of Detention Policy and Planning, concluded that immigrant detainees — many of whom have never committed a crime (immigration violations are civil, not criminal, cases) — shouldn't be treated like criminals and that ICE, not private prison companies, should operate its own detention centers to safeguard against abuses and ensure greater oversight.

Yet six years later, private prison corporations now house nearly half of the nation's immigrant detainees

"It speaks to the power of this industry," says Bob Libal with the Austin-based civil rights group Grassroots Leadership. "Now, ICE is just giving these companies another way to profit off immigrants."  Read more about ICE Awards Contract to Private Prison Company That Was Just Slammed in Federal Report

Jul 28, 2015
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San Diego Free Press

Whistleblower Exposes Torture and Child Abuse at For-Profit Prison

"A social worker formerly employed at a for-profit family immigrant detention center in Texas blew the whistle this week on the prison’s inhumane conditions—from solitary confinement to medical neglect—that she said amount to child abuse and torture.

The Karnes County Residential Center is operated by GEO Group—the second largest private prison company in the country that has faced numerous accusations of atrocities and civil rights violations. It is also the site of recent—and repeated—hunger strikes led by mothers incarcerated with their children, in protest of their conditions, detentions, and in many cases, their looming deportations.
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Cristina Parker of Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based organization that opposes prison profiteering, toldCommon Dreams that there are signs that the tide may be finally turning against these 'wrong, immoral, and traumatizing' prisons." Read more about Whistleblower Exposes Torture and Child Abuse at For-Profit Prison

Finally, ICE relents and some women and children are released from long-term family detention

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Bowing to intense pressure, immigration officials announced Monday that they will release some detained families who have been found to have credible fear of returning to their home countries. “ICE has finally begun to take concrete action in response to public outcry against the detention of refugee families,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership. Read more about Finally, ICE relents and some women and children are released from long-term family detention

Jul 3, 2015
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The Austin Chronicle

The End of Family Detention?

"Immigrant advocates applauded changes to the Obama administration's family detention policy unveiled last week that has the lowering of bonds as the cornerstone of the revamping. Categorizing the change as a first step toward reform, activists continue to call to an end to the practice of holding immigrant families.

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Bob Libal, executive director of Grass­roots Leadership, also is calling for an end to the program. In May, his members joined more than 600 protesters – including a caravan of parishioners from Austin-based St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church – gathered outside the recently opened South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, calling for its closure. 'I think there is some positive movement of Johnson's announcement,' he said. "They are feeling the impact of what has been unanimous outrage over the decision to incarcerate kids and moms. But I don't think it goes far enough."

Libal points out the built-in incentive to keep families detained, given the for-profit nature of the detention camps – operated by publicly held companies that bill the government $300 a day to detain each immigrant. 'There is no way to humanely detain a kid in one of these detention camps,' he adds." Read more about The End of Family Detention?

VIDEO: Survivor of Japanese incarceration during WWII takes us from Crystal City to Dilley

Dr. Satsuki Ina, a psychotherapist and professor emeritus at California State University — Sacramento was born in an incarceration camp in California, before moving with her mother to a camp in Crystal City, Texas. An advocate against family detention, Dr. Ina returned to Texas for a rally on May 2nd rally in Dilley, Texas. In this powerful video by Matthew Gossage, Dr. Ina visits Crystal City for the first time since childhood and talks about why detaining families is wrong.

A statement released by the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) earlier this month condemned the U.S. Government’s practice of detaining asylum-seeking families Read more about VIDEO: Survivor of Japanese incarceration during WWII takes us from Crystal City to Dilley

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