U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is set to open a new "model" detention facility in Karnes County, Texas. The facility will hold detainees in "more normalized conditions" with such luxuries as privacy in toilets and showers and expanded access to outdoor recreation.
The facility, built and operated by Geo Group, is expected to hold up to 608 detainees, according to a press release sent by Human Rights First.
"Geo Group is in the private prison industry and they have invested in the creation and lobbying of harsh, anti-immigrant and 'tough on crime' laws that promote racial profiling and help keep their prisons and pockets full," said Mónica Novoa, Drop the I-Word Campaign Coordinator.
"There is nothing humane about profiting from human suffering," Novoa went on to say.
The Karnes County detention center is the first facility designed and built based on ICE's 2009 commitment to reform the immigration detention system and shift away from its longtime reliance on jails and jail-like facilities.
In late 2009, the Obama administration announced plans to reform the detention system. The reforms included stated efforts to decrease the number of immigrants and asylum seekers held in penal jails or jail-like facilities, and to detain people closer to their homes by building new facilities near urban centers. The announcement also suggested that more people could be released or placed on supervision without being locked up, which is a more fiscally prudent option than mass detention. Yet, according to an October 2011 report by Human Rights First, about half of ICE detainees are still held in actual correctional facilities and most of the rest are held in jail-like facilities. Rather than expand alternatives to detention programs, ICE under Obama has moved to build more facilities, which it says will be "humane."
In "Dispatch From Detention: A Rare Look Inside Our 'Humane' Immigration Jails" Wessler writes about his visit to six immigration detention centers as a researcher, working for Colorlines.com's publisher, the Applied Research Center. His visits included The T. Don Hutto Residential Center that ICE has touted as a model facility. More from Wessler:
Indeed, Hutto is a softer place than the other detention centers. The women can wear their own clothes and as we walk down the halls, there are women walking in small groups without guards accompanying them.
Behind the main building where the detainees sleep in jail cells from which the locks have been removed, there's a row of prefab trailers. Twelve women sat in plastic chairs in the back of one of them. They stared blankly ahead or looked down at the ground. A Corrections Corp. employee called them up one by one to a desk at the front of the trailer. The women slowly approached the desk and picked beads and long pieces of string from a plastic tub.
"You know the bracelets you sometimes see kids wearing. They can make those here and then send the bracelets to their kids," said Melissa. "They get the beads by trading in fake money like monopoly money they earn through their English classes. The better they do on their English classes, the more beads they can buy. It's an incentive to learn English."
We walked to the back of the trailer where there was a shelf on which sat a pile of knitted blankets. There were three women knitting blankets out of artificial yarns in bright colors. "It's amazing what they can do," she said, as she smiled too big and looked at me for validation.
Melissa told me that they donate the crafts and the blankets to local foster kids. The research project that I was conducting at the time of these visits discovered that there are thousands of children stuck in foster carewho can't be reunified with their family because the mother or father is locked in detention or was deported. Almost all of these women are separated from their own children, and the detention center has them making gifts for the local foster children.
Read Seth Freed Wessler's complete investigative report: Dispatch From Detention: A Rare Look Inside Our 'Humane' Immigration Jails".
*This story has been updated since the original time of publishing. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the new ICE facility opened Tuesday. ICE officials announced earlier the opening date has been postponed after learning that a contract employee had been diagnosed with meningitis.
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is postponing its planned Feb. 14 opening announcement for the Karnes County Civil Detention Center in Karnes City, Texas, after learning that a contract employee had been diagnosed with meningitis. The employee is hospitalized in stable condition. As a precaution, preventive medication has been made available to ICE and contract employees who had been working at the facility. ICE will reschedule the announcement event at a later date. The facility does not yet hold detainees."