U.S. Unveils Reform-Minded Immigration Facility in Texas
A 608-bed facility unveiled Tuesday in Texas represents what federal officials say is a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s pledge to overhaul America’s much-maligned system for jailing immigration offenders.
Although the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility has heavy security, with doors that lock electronically and windows made of reinforced glass, officials insist this isn’t a prison.
Guards don’t carry handcuffs, there’s no wall around the facility, and the exterior is painted a crisp royal-blue and burgundy. The rooms have four bunk beds, a private bath, television and phone, which they can use to make international calls for just 15 cents per minute — rates mostly unheard of on the outside. There’s not even a lights out policy at night, with the residents free to wander common areas even during designated sleeping time.
The White House promised three years ago to rethink its detention policies, in response to civil-liberties lawsuits filed on behalf of families held at a crowded central Texas facility where children were held behind razor barbed-wire.
The Karnes County Civil Detention Center in this tiny South Texas town, 60 miles (96 kilometers) southeast of San Antonio, was intended to be more humane to detainees — though some activists argue they shouldn’t be locked up at all.
“We needed to do better. We needed to improve our detainee treatment,” said Gary Mead, executive associate director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations.
Some conservatives, however, fear the $32 million civil detention center unveiled Tuesday is coddling criminals.
Most of the inmates held here will be those arrested after sneaking across the border in the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of Texas.
Officials are retrofitting facilities in California, Virginia and New Jersey to make them more like the one here, and also constructed more-restrictive detention centers in Florida and Illinois for medium- and high-risk detainees.
The Texas center will hold only adult males considered low-risk detainees, and they won’t begin arriving for about three weeks. But ICE invited reporters and representatives from non-government groups like the American Civil Liberties Union to tour the facility on Tuesday.