While local media and local officials were not invited, a handful of reporters from national and statewide newspaper and television media were escorted on a tour of the new facility by officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) March 13.
ICE announced the opening of its first-ever designed-and-built civil detention center, as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) overall detention reform program.
The Karnes County Civil Detention Center is a 608-bed civil immigration detention facility, designed to house adult male, low-risk, minimum security detainees. ICE officials said that the detainees who will be housed at Karnes will first be carefully screened to ensure that they do not pose a threat to themselves or others, and are not a flight risk.
“This civil detention center represents a first in the entire history of immigration detention,” said ICE Director John Morton. “Karnes and others like it are one part of an ICE detention reform program that is sensible, sustainable and attentive to the unique needs of the individuals in our custody.”
The civil detention facility model allows for greater unescorted movement, enhanced recreational opportunities and contact visitation, while maintaining a safe and secure atmosphere for detainees and staff.
In December 2010, ICE entered into an intergovernmental service agreement with Karnes County. The GEO Group Inc. was responsible for developing the center, in addition to operating the center as it opens its doors. ICE officials say this contract represents a significant milestone in the agency’s long-term effort to reform the immigration detention system, prioritizing the health and safety of detainees in custody while increasing federal oversight and improving the conditions of confinement within the system.
ICE’s detention reform efforts call for putting detention centers in strategic locations that maximize detainee access to local consulates and pro-bono legal services, reduce detainee transfers within the detention system and increase overall operational efficiencies, allowing for a reduction in detainees’ average length of stay in ICE custody.
When first announced, Karnes County officials expressed great excitement about the $32 million facility which was expected to bring 140 jobs and an annual payroll of $5 million to Karnes County. The project was expected to be a huge boost to the local economy, officials said at that time.
Not everyone is 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.”