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Refugees land on county’s doorstep
by Gary Kent and Joe Baker
Aug 07, 2014 | 703 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Members of the press get a look at manicured landscaping behind the walls as part of  the interior courtyard at the recently re-branded Karnes County Residential Center on July 31. “Inside the Karnes County Residential Center” – a video at mySouTex.com – shows highlights the center.
Members of the press get a look at manicured landscaping behind the walls as part of the interior courtyard at the recently re-branded Karnes County Residential Center on July 31. “Inside the Karnes County Residential Center” – a video at mySouTex.com – shows highlights the center.
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KARNES COUNTY – Bee County Sheriff Carlos Carrizales Jr. had little comment when asked about families coming here from Central America being housed temporarily at a former detention center in Karnes County.

“What can we really do as a people?” the sheriff asked. “It’s tough when you have that many people to deal with.”

“Hopefully they will have the situation resolved as soon as they can,” Carrizales said of federal authorities working on the problem.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officers throughout South Texas are working as many hours as they can to try to stop drug cartel members and illegal narcotics from entering the country as Border Patrol agents are tied up taking care of the undocumented immigrants.

“We can only do so much,” said Carrizales, who spoke on the issue of illegal immigrants Tuesday evening at the Tea Party-hosted meeting at the Joe Barnhart Library.

Prison or hotel?

When the Karnes County detention center was built in 2012, government officials went to great lengths to make the facility seem as little like a prison as possible.

And now that women and children will be housed there, they are going even further with such efforts to make life as pleasant and comfortable as possible for immigrants taken into custody by the Border Patrol.

Regardless of the new luxuries and amenities offered, the fact remains that immigrants are being held against their will behind locked doors until they can get a hearing before an immigration judge.

“Detainees” are now referred to as “residents.”

“Guards” are now referred to as “resident advisors.”

“Cells” are now referred to as “suites.”

Flat screen TVs

& ball fields

The remodeled center, in many ways, now seems much more like a hotel or resort than a detention center.

With cable-connected flat screen TVs in each suite and dayroom, soccer field with artificial turf, basketball courts, volleyball court, gym with exercise equipment, library with internet connected computers, dining hall with “all you can eat” meals drinks and snacks – the facility in many ways seems to offer more luxury than one might expect.

Children will attend school classes provided by a San Antonio charter school and art classes and group movement classes will also be available for adults and children detainees.

The facility also offers a salon for haircuts, medical, dental, and vision care and when the detainees arrive, they can choose from a variety of colorful clothing choices instead of institutional style clothing or jumpsuits.

Even the name of the facility has been changed from the Karnes County Civil Detention Center to the Karnes County Residential Center, shifting the focus away from the fact that it remains a detention center.

ICE hosts tour

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) San Antonio Field Officer Enrique Lucero welcomed a large group of local, statewide and national media to its newly remodeled immigrant detention center near Karnes City on July 31.

Lucero explained that detainees receive medical screenings and are x-rayed in the facility as soon as they arrive. The screenings and x-rays are aimed at detecting illnesses such as tuberculosis.

After an extended tour showing all the different areas inside the facility, Lucero made a statement and took questions at a press conference inside the facility.

“The Karnes County Residential Center is the first facility constructed with ICE’s new civil detention reforms in mind,” Lucero said. “It allows ICE detainees the freedom of movement, recreational opportunities, counsel visitation while maintaining a safe and secure environment for both the residents and the staff.”

“I am pretty sure you will agree that this is nothing like you have seen before,” he added. “We pride ourselves in this location. We think it is absolutely appropriate for adults with children.”

Females & children only facility

The facility recently modified its contract with Karnes County to change from a facility that houses adult males, to one that houses single-parent families – adult females and their children, he noted.

“The majority of the people who will be accommodated here will be coming from the Rio Grande Valley area who have been apprehended, most likely by the U.S. Border Patrol,” he said.

“The use of this facility is sending one very important message to families in Central America considering crossing into the United States,” he said. “Do not risk the lives of your children. Do not risk your life. This is a very dangerous journey coming into the U.S. Unfortunately, there have been deaths coming through the Rio Grande valley area by both adults and children as recently as the last few months.”

“Putting your lives in the hands of criminal smugglers who care not for human life, is very dangerous,” he said. “The U.S. border is not open to illegal immigration. After your immediate detention and due process, there is every likelihood you will be returned to your home country.”

Mixed messages?

One reporter at the press conference asked if ICE was sending mixed messages by providing such luxurious accommodations and amenities for immigrants while they are being detained.

Will the existence of these facilities become an incentive for Central Americans to take the risk and cross the border illegally as a way to receive the free food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education, recreation, entertainment and legal services available in such facilities?

“While residents are here at the Karnes County Residential Facility, we will provide a safe and humane environment,” Lucero responded. “We are in the State of Texas, where it requires children that are in a detention facility to go to school and to be provided these activities. While they are doing their due process and going through the immigration proceedings, we will provide that safe environment for them.”

When asked about the cost of operating the Karnes County Residential Center, Lucero said it is expected to be $140 per day, per detainee, which adds up to $74,480 per day or $27 million per year to operate the facility at full capacity.

Visit mySouTex.com to see “Inside the Karnes County Residential Center” a video feature with highlights from the tour and press conference.
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