Another Immigrant Detention Center is Not What Texas Needs

By Kirsten Bokenkamp
Senior Communications Strategist

We can think of about a million reasons why the new “civil” immigrant detention center in rural Karnes City is anything but a showing of “civility” from ICE.  For starters:

  • It’s managed by the GEO Group, a for-profit prison company with a track record of mismanagement, prisoner abuse, inmate deaths, sexual assault of detainees by prison guards…and that’s just in Texas;
  • The location is in a rural area, far from legal or social services;
  • This is costing taxpayers a lot of money;
  • Karnes City taxpayers were not consulted about the facility until after the contract with GEO was signed.

Most fundamentally, though, is that a “civil” detention center like this shouldn’t exist. Who will be held there? You may guess that dangerous criminals will make up most of the center’s population.  Nope. This center will hold immigrants in the lowest security level of ICE custody – asylum-seekers awaiting their hearings, for example.  We increase the vulnerability of these vulnerable people seeking safety by separating them from their families far away from legal representation.  In 2009, ICE claimed it would reduce the use of isolated detention centers – which makes it more maddening that they just built a new one in Karnes City, a small town southeast of San Antonio.

Public safety isn’t protected by overreliance on expensive detention of non-violent border crossers, especially asylum seekers fleeing economic hardship or political, sexual and criminal abuses in their home countries.  Instead of treating them like dangerous criminals at a cost to taxpayers of an average $166 per day, the US should implement other programs. Alternatives to detention (or ATDs) cost significantly less — from 30 cents to $14 per day — than locking up immigrants in detention facilities.

Why deprive people of their liberty and ability to work, shatter families, expose detainees to abuse by guards, and spend more taxpayer dollars in the name of immigration enforcement? It makes you wonder, until you remember the enormous profits reaped by private prison companies like GEO Group. With that kind of money, you can buy yourself some pretty decent lobbyists, we’d guess.

In the end, “civil” detention centers like the new one in Karnes city are not consistent with American values and they do not benefit our society.  Worse, no corporation, state, county, or city should profit from putting people behind bars.  It is time to rethink this system. We would even save tax dollars along the way.

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