An undocumented Mexican immigrant waits to be in-processed at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), center on April 28, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. A new report shows that several immigration centers in Texas have inhumane conditions. ( Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Texas immigrant detention centers are inhumane, says report

Two of the worst privately-run immigrant detention facilities in the U.S. are in Texas, a new report alleges, but officials with one of the centers in question dismissed the findings as recycled political attacks.

Detention Watch Network released detailed reports of human rights violations at the facilities, which incarcerate undocumented immigrants. Among them were privately-run Texas facilities Polk County Detention Facility and Houston Processing Center. The facilities held 700 and 851 detainees at the time of  a July 2012 visit by four volunteers from non-profit advocacy groups Grassroots Leadership and United for Families.

At a site like Polk, the Detention Watch Network says detainees have poor medical care and are given no recreation time. Nurses and medical staff don’t speak Spanish, which leads to inadequate treatment, according to some of the immigrants at Polk.  The report also alleges labor exploitation at the facility– stating detainees are paid $1 for their work– and are given limited visitation hours where families must talk through a glass partition, just like a prison. According to Alejandro Quinones, an immigrant detainee who was quoted in the report, “I feel like a boat in the middle of the ocean, just being carried by the water with no control. Everything is up to the decision of the judge. He took my freedom, he took my life. They can just do what they want. There should be human rights.”

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Meanwhile, at the Houston Processing Center, there is mistreatment, inadequate nutrition and family separation due to a terrible visitation process, says the Detention Watch Network. There are also reports of random solitary confinement and poor mental and physical healthcare. One woman quoted in the report said that at HPC, “There are some of the younger women who have kids who get really depressed. They start thinking stupid things like suicide, and then the other women try to support them.”

According to Andrea Black, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network, “We hope that the Administration will act. ICE claims it has taken steps to reform the detention system, but the people actually in detention are suffering as much as ever. In his second term, the president has the power to bring about change that will uplift immigrants instead of lock them up.”

With the report, the Detention Watch Network is calling for the closing of these facilities and demanding that President Obama take the first step towards ending inhumane detention in immigrant prisons across the United States.

But the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which operates the Houston Processing Center, says the report is an inaccurate portrait of their facility.

“This is a stale rehash of recycled attacks against CCA facilities that save taxpayers money while providing safe, high-quality detention services,” says Steve Owen, CCA’s Senior Director for Public Affairs. “It is yet another unfortunate example of the lack of seriousness with which political attack groups approach the very real and practical challenges our nation faces in safely, humanely and cost-effectively housing immigration detainees.”

Owens says that, “Overall, we take the treatment of the detainees entrusted to our care very seriously and act swiftly if our own high standards and those of our government partners are not met.” He notes that the allegations are based on an ACLU report that CCA refuted several months ago after the information CCA provided was excluded from the final product. Owens also says that CCA was provided “no opportunity whatsoever to provide feedback or context to the allegations made.”

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Talia Inlender, who is a staff attorney at Public Counsel, a nonprofit law firm, which has one of the country’s largest immigration and asylum practices, says that while she has no specific knowledge of the Polk or Houston facilities, findings like the ones in this report are commonplace.

“Although the conditions at the facilities highlighted in the report are particularly egregious, some of the conditions recounted–high phone costs, limited family visits, poor medical care, and especially lack of access to legal services of any kind are, unfortunately, common themes among many detention centers,” Inlender says.

In Inlender’s opinion, there’s much room for improvement and one fix may be to ensure access to legal services. “This system does not serve anyone well — not the detainees, not ICE, and not the public who ultimately bear the massive costs that the detention system incurs in both dollars and human lives.”

Carl Rusnok, a U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement spokesman, told the Dallas Morning News that they’ve heard some criticism of these facilities and cited a 2009 report by an adviser to Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security. Rusnok also said that some reforms have taken place to improve the facilities since 2009.

“Changes made in one state (or even facility) do not necessarily translate into changes everywhere (or even in the facility next door). Again, this is the logical consequence of running a massive detention system with a large number of subcontractors and limited oversight,” says Inlender.

Since the reports surfaced, ICE said it plans to meet with Detention Watch to discuss their report, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Patricia Diez contributed to this report. 

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