Sheriff Carlos Carrizales Jr. says that the simplicity of that question is what makes it so difficult to answer.
“Is the rest of the country prepared?” he asked in response. “It depends how you say prepared.
“Washington needs to hurry up and quit pointing fingers and bickering and get something done.”
On Aug. 5, the sheriff will speak on the issue of immigration and its effect on Bee County.
The sheriff is the guest speaker at the Tea Party meeting scheduled to start at 6 p.m. at the Joe Barnhart Bee County Library first floor conference room.
He will explain what we are to look for, how to protect ourselves and how the sheriff’s department is impacted.
Stopping the flow
Carrizales admits that Bee County doesn’t see the number of illegal immigrants coming through like other areas, but they are here.
Carrizales said that he has been told in the past that Border Patrol agents will find maps on illegal immigrants and over Bee County is an “X.”
That symbol is a signal for the immigrants to avoid the area.
At issue is what will happen next.
“The coyotes are getting smarter. The vehicles they use, they either steal them or rent them,” he said. “My biggest fear is these guys are getting more brazen.”
Recently, the number of illegal immigrants coming through seems to have slowed, but that could change in an instant.
“We are spread pretty thin,” the sheriff said. “ICE is inundated too.”
Another aspect of this is that deputies only detain illegal immigrants. After that, they are handed over to agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We are not immigration officers,” he reminded. “Part of enforcing the law is how we come across these people.”
Held in Karnes
Some of those detained by local deputies could be headed up north to the Karnes County facility where concerns are being voiced.
The unit which has for the past two years housed about 500 adult males, most of which have been undocumented immigrants from Central America, is being converted to house single-parent families with children where the sole parent is the mother.
Representatives of the GEO Group Inc., the company contracted with ICE to operate the facility, said that undocumented immigrant families where there is both a father and a mother are being detained in different ICE detention facilities across the U.S.
The majority of the single-parent families housed at the Karnes City facility will be undocumented immigrants who have crossed into the U.S. from Central America, GEO officials said.
Local reaction to the news is mixed as Karnes County suddenly becomes a focal point in an ongoing controversial national issue.
The national debate continues about what should be done with undocumented or illegal immigrants coming in ever-increasing numbers from countries such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Karnes City resident Michael Vega questioned the spending of federal tax dollars to house the families for indefinite periods of time.
“It’s cheaper to just deport them back to their country,” Vega said. “People feel sorry for the kids that come, but what kind of parents send such small children away like that?”
Residents say send them home
Kenedy resident Jo Schuenemann also thinks the detainees should be sent home as soon as possible instead of being detained here for long periods of time.
“They need to be sent back to their home countries, and if they want to come to the U.S., start the process legally, as many others have done in the past,” Schuenemann said. “We do have laws, and we need to enforce the law.”
Others take a somewhat different view.
“My heart goes out to the children involved,” Vikki Pruski said. “The parents made the decision that they needed to leave their country, for whatever reason that is. I wish everyone in this world had the opportunity that Americans have. I am not sure of the answer, but as a Christian I think we need to help the children.”
Others expressed concern about possible health risks to the community as a result of housing the detainees at the detention center.
“What about the health issues?” Carol Martin asked. “Would you want a family member working there? As a former resident who still has family there, I am totally against it.”
Karnes facility could also house children
During an interview with The Karnes Countywide Monday, ICE spokesperson Nina Pruneda said, “On July 11, 2014, ICE modified its contract with Karnes County, Texas, in order to transition the Karnes County Civil Detention Center (KCCDC) from a facility housing adult males to a female adults with children residential facility.
“This was done in order to expand the agency’s capacity to house Central American female adults with children who’ve been apprehended while attempting to cross the border and placed into expedited removal proceedings. It is anticipated that KCCDC will begin housing Central American female adults with children within the next several weeks.”
While the exact number of detainees that will be housed at the facility is at this time undetermined, Pruneda said that the facility has a maximum capacity of 532 detainees.
The $32 million center opened its doors in 2012.
Late last week, GEO officials said the name of the facility has been changed to the Karnes County Family Residential Unit.
There are no expected adverse effects to the local community as a result of the changes, GEO sources emphasized.
The civil detention facility model allows for greater unescorted movement, enhanced recreational opportunities and contact visitation.
Karnes agreement with ICE
In December 2010, ICE entered into an intergovernmental service agreement with Karnes County. The GEO Group Inc. was responsible for developing and operating the facility.
The contract was modified and the facility will now house single-parent families where the mother is the single parent
When first announced, Karnes County officials expressed great excitement about the facility which was expected to bring 140 jobs and an annual payroll of $5 million to Karnes County.
Not everyone was excited about the new facility, though.
A handful of protesters identifying themselves as a coalition of civil rights, faith and immigrants rights groups gathered outside the front gates demonstrating against the center which they called a “bad deal.”
“No matter how ‘civil’ the Karnes facility is supposed to be, it will continue to lock up immigrants who should not be detained,” said Krystal Gomez of the ACLU of Texas. “ICE should prioritize release and community-based alternatives to detention that allow people to remain with their families awaiting their hearings, rather than codifying a system of for-profit detention.”