The Department of Justice’s recent decision to stop contracting with private prison companies isn’t stopping immigration officials from considering opening a new privately operated detention facility in in San Diego, Texas.
There are already two privately operated detention centers in Texas to house women and children who cross the border. Advocates for these families say those facilities cause problems enough.
Dr. Olivia Lopez is a former social worker from the Karnes Family Residential facility, run by GEO Group. She says women and children there were coerced into medical procedures — they cannot reject a blood draw or vaccinations, for example. She says the environment at Karnes created high levels of anxiety.
“They were being lorded over at all times with the threat of removal of children or deportation, all the time,” says Lopez.
Some women are given alternatives to detention and released from the centers while they await court dates. When women and children are released from the Texas facilities, some end up at Casa de Raices in San Antonio. It’s a two-story home for families where they can get food, water, a night’s rest and legal advice before they reunite with their families across the US and wait for immigration court dates.
Yohannes Bhata is the director of Casa de Raices. He began helping these families around 2013 when the US experienced a surge of Central American migrants. About 47,000 children under the age of 18 were taken into custody between October 2013 and May 2014. When these children are released with their mothers, Bhata gets to work.
“The government, or ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], was dropping them at the bus station with no bus tickets, diapers, food, water or anything,” says Bhata. “For a family who has never been here, with language barriers, it was so sad.”
County official Ricardo O. Carrillo submitted a proposal for a new facility in mid July, in response to a request for information from ICE, seeking locations for another detention facility. Carrillo says the family residential center would bring economic opportunities to Duval County, where part of San Diego sits. And they’re looking for a boon: The county will lose $998,000 in revenue this year because of the drop in oil prices, he says.
By Reynaldo Leanos Jr. for PRI
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