Immigration detention centers under increased scrutiny while rumors of increased deportation raids mount

Growing evidence that both the federal government and private prison companies have failed to provide adequate childcare to its detainees could lead to an increase in deportations, according to CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project partners.

Families reportedly lack access to counsel and representation in family detention, lessening the chances that their asylum claims are heard while making it more likely that they are sent back to their native countries.

The Cara Project reported May 12 that “the detention centers provide only a fraction of detained families with access to the Project’s pre-release orientations, which are essential to prepare detained families to meet their case deadlines and comply with their terms of release.” Judge Karin Crump of the 250th District extended the temporary restraining order — prohibiting the licensing of the Dilley detention center — and set another hearing for June 1.

Dominican Sr. Bernadine Karge volunteers with CARA’s Pro Bono project in South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, one of the two family detention centers in the state. She said that a language barrier between detainees and representatives largely contributes to their lack of access to counsel. Many families not only speak just one exotic language (including Uzbek, Armenian, and indigenous languages), but they are also completely illiterate, posing a challenge for communicating with a “mindful representative,” as well as updating their information necessary for court proceedings.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) recently issued a childcare license for the Karnes County Residential Center, a family detention center owned by GEO Group, a private-prison company. The second family detention facility in Dilley is run by Corrections Corporations of America and has not been issued a childcare license. A hearing took place May 13, challenging DFPS on its legal authority to change standards to issue childcare licensing. 

Karge noted that today Dilley can house roughly 1,500 detainees. Though 14 percent of the detainees are younger than 18 months, its nursery can only accommodate four babies, she said.

“CCA and GEO Group are profiting massively from family detention,” said Bob Libal, executive director at Grassroots Leadership, in a press release. “It’s shameful that DFPS is more invested in protecting these corporations’ profits and excessive federal immigration enforcement policy over the well-being of children.”

News of mismanaged family detention centers comes just as Reuters reports that U.S. immigration officials are planning what could be the “largest deportation sweep targeting immigrant families by the administration of President Barack Obama this year,” with a month-long series of raids expected in May and June.

An ICE spokeswoman told Reuters that the agency does not “confirm or deny the existence of specific ongoing or future law enforcement actions,” and that officials will prioritize the removal of those who arrived illegally after Jan. 1, 2014.

"Both our faith values and American ideals call us to be a compassionate and welcoming people," said Franciscan Sr. Marie Lucey, director of advocacy and member relations at the Franciscan Action Network, in a press release. "If these raids materialize, they betray who we are as a nation. FAN stands in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who deserve to be treated with dignity and given refuge from violence."

[Soli Salgado is a staff writer for Global Sisters Report. Follow her on Twitter @soli_salgado.]

Related: Let my people go! #EndFamilyDetention

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