Texans United for Families (TUFF) protesting Wells Fargo in Austin, TX
On March 13, 2012, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unveiled its new “civil” detention center in Karnes County, Texas, located one hour southeast of San Antonio. By the end of the month the facility will hold male migrants who are either asylum-seekers or have been categorized as “low-risk.” Karnes County contracted with private prison giant the GEO Group to build this detention center, which sits upon 29 acres of land and has 608 beds, with the possibility to expand to 1200 beds. The detention center is heralded by ICE as a model facility that is demonstrative of its efforts to move towards “humane detention.” Despite its shiny exterior and the presence of volleyball courts and soccer fields, the GEO group’s troubled history and record of human rights violations within its facilities are cause for alarm. The promise of “humane detention” itself is an oxymoron that community members should challenge. A gilded cage is still a cage.
However, it is important to point out that the majority of the cages that the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private prison corporation, have constructed are not gilded. Human rights violations occur frequently in these facilities and deaths in detention are not an aberration. In December 2010, the ACLU of Texas sued the GEO Group after Jesús Manuel Galindo died in the Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC) after suffering from an epileptic seizure while in solitary confinement. Mr. Galindo was punished with solitary confinement after he complained about the facility’s failure to provide him with the necessary medication to control his seizures. RCDC had already been under scrutiny before Mr. Galindo’s death due to riots and the deaths of other people at the facility. The T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, TX, has also been under intense scrutiny, first because of family detention and the sexual assault of two women by a CCA guard and most recently because another CCA guard sexually assaulted eight undocumented women while he transported them to the Austin airport. The Hutto facility is also lauded as an example of “civil” detention, and yet a lack of oversight and accountability led to human rights violations.
On any given day there are nearly 34,000 people detained in the U.S., which costs taxpayers billions of dollars, destroys families, and denigrates the humanity of those locked behind bars. Although alternatives to detention cost approximately $12 per day per person, ICE continues to rely on detention, which costs approximately $122 per day per person. Major investors in the private prison industry, such as Wells Fargo, also profit from immigration detention by paying lobbyists who help the GEO Group lobby in favor of policies that expand immigration detention. The federal government gives private prison companies nearly $5.5 million dollars every year to detain migrants therefore it is in these companies’ best interest to fill detention centers.
In Austin, members of Texans United for Families (TUFF), the labor and faith communities, students, and Occupy Austin have united to raise awareness about Wells Fargo’s pernicious practices and the private prison industry. TUFF has also joined Enlace’s national prison divestment campaign to call for companies to divest of their holdings from the GEO Group and CCA, and for community members to close their accounts with Wells Fargo. We cannot stand idly by as the players in the private prison industry assign a dollar value to human life and profit from human misery. The reasons why people risk their lives to come to the U.S. and the trauma they may have experienced along the way are conveniently erased and replaced with an alien registration number once they are detained. It is time to recognize immigration detention as a human rights violation and call for the end of its expansion.