A spokesperson for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was unable to comment to several specific questions related to the operation of the center, but GEO administrators were able to clarify the situation and respond to specific concerns.
GEO officials said 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. GEO has a contract to operate the facility under the direction of ICE.
Undocumented immigrant families where there is both a father and a mother are being detained in different ICE detention facilities across the U.S., GEO officials said during a presentation to the Karnes City Rotary Club on July 24. There will be no adult males housed in the facility, only adult women and their children.
Unaccompanied children who have been taken into custody are planned to be housed in the San Antonio area, GEO officials said.
Local people expressed concerns about possible health risks to the community as a result of housing the detainees at the detention center, but GEO officials said there would be no greater health risks to the general public with the new residents than there were when adult males were being detained in the center.
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.
Pruneda declined to comment when asked if the contract could be modified without approval from the county.
GEO officials said the contract, with the new modifications, had been recently signed by Karnes County Judge Richard Butler.
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 Center.
There are no expected adverse effects to the local community as a result of the changes, GEO sources emphasized. They confirmed that the children living at the facility would not enter the public schools. A charter school will be set up inside the facility where the immigrant children will receive classroom instruction while they are being detained.