Immigrants Detained at South Texas Family Residential Center: For or Against?

Children at Brownsville Immigration Detention Center

Imagine: you and your daughters have spent years living in fear. All of you have been victimized by a male relative with whom you share a house. You have listened to your daughters’ screams, and you have wiped away their tears. But you have been unable to protect them. Every night, you have prayed they would somehow survive the torture and threats.

After years saving every cent you could hide, you finally have enough money to take them away from this situation. You have a chance to break them out of hell. Filled with hope, you and your daughters embark on a journey to the land of opportunity.

As you approach this new land, your hopes are dashed. Border patrol agents spot you. Once again, you are afraid.

You don’t understand where they are taking you. When you arrive in a place called “Dilley,” you realize you are not free. You can’t hold it together when you see that your daughters are being treated like criminals. Their crime? Obeying you, their mother, who only wanted them to be safe and free.

For months, you are forced to stay in this immigrant detention center until you and your daughters are finally allowed legal entry into the country since you qualify for refuge as victims of domestic violence. Your entry into the United States was found to be legal, yet you were still forced to endure a months-long sentence.

Is this scenario fair? Is it just? This week, the largest family detention center in the United States opened in Dilley, Texas (outside of border town, Laredo). This facility, called South Texas Family Residential Center, can house up to 2,400 immigrants as they wait to find out if they will be deported. The facility in Dilley is in addition to two other family detention centers the Obama administration has opened in the past several months, a 672-bed facility in Artesia, N.M., and a 532-bed facility in Karnes City, Texas.

The three centers will give the government the capability to hold more than 3,000 women and children instead of releasing them while their immigration cases are pending as had been the practice previously.

“These facilities will help ensure more timely and effective removals that comply with our legal and international obligations, while deterring others from taking the dangerous journey and illegally crossing into the United States,” Adelina Pruneda, an ICE spokeswoman, said in a statement. 

However, we must ask if this change in policy is fair to immigrants who are seeking status as refugees. Is our government violating the legal rights of families seeking asylum in the U.S.?  Immigration activists say the answer is yes. They say refugees who have already suffered immense trauma should not be forced into detention centers when – according to the law – they have done nothing wrong. Instead of detaining families, immigrants should be released on their own recognizance or on bond while their immigration cases are pending.

 Immigration activists say that controversies regarding the private prison corporation – Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) – that won the contract to run Dilley (along with other immigrant detention centers), raises questions as to whether families and children should be detained in such facilities. CCA makes profits when detention centers are filled with immigrants. In fact, the U.S. government spends almost $300 per day for each immigrant to be housed in the South Texas Family Detention Center. 

Immigration activists claim that CCA’s profit motive means there is a conflict of interest here. CCA lobbies lawmakers for stricter immigration laws. More immigration violations mean they make more money. According to the Boston Phoenix, CCA spent more than $2.7 million from 2006 through September 2008 on lobbying for stricter laws.

In CCA’s words (from its 10-K annual report as required by the SEC): “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”

Not only does CCA have financial incentive to keep their detention centers filled to maximum capacity, but, historically, CCA has put inmates’ health and safety in jeopardy in order to cut costs, say activists. Controversies involving the company include: substantial falsifying of records to conceal understaffing, lobbying efforts to conceal details of operations, poor treatment of prison inmates, and medical care so bad that government investigators declared “detainee welfare is in jeopardy” at CCA’s immigration jail in Eloy, Arizona after responding to an inmate’s death in 2006. (A second inmate died not long after.)

In 2010 the corporation was investigated by the FBI for an incident at their prison in Idaho Correctional Center. A video released by the Associated Press showed a prison inmate being beaten unconscious with guards watching not taking action.

In 2007, the ACLU and University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic won a settlement with ICE over the allegedly deplorable conditions at a CCA facility called the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, claiming children were forced to wear prison uniforms, given limited time outdoors and not provided education or medical care. The facility was ordered to remove families from the facility in 2009.

Why, then, has CCA been awarded new immigrant facility contracts, ask activists? “We should rage against policies that allow this for-profit prison manager with a less-than-spotless record to house detained families, many of whom are seeking legal asylum.Such a practice is unethical, and it goes against our American values,” says activist Susan Turner. 

What do you think about the forced detention of immigrants at facilities run by CCA and other for-profit prison corporations? Please tell us your views in the comments section below.

Please contact us today to schedule a consultation with an immigration attorney.


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