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Report: 'Systemic' Problems in Groups Overseeing Central American Migrants

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT
A report calls problems within the Karnes County Residential Center "systemic," and expresses concern about a forthcoming immigrant detention facility opening in Dilley next month.

A report released yesterday documents what it calls "systemic" problems in the two private prison companies the federal government hires to house undocumented Central American mothers and their children.

The report alleges detainees are being sexually harassed by guards in the recently-opened Karnes County Residential Center, which is run by the GEO Group, and expresses concern about a forthcoming center opening in Dilley next month, which will be run by CCA.

Austin-based research and advocacy group Grassroots Leadership authored the report, and Cristina Parker, a project coordinator with the group, says private prison contractors like GEO and CCA are often responsible for deaths of those within under care. Since the 1980s, she says, they have settled lawsuits claiming that people die under these companies’ care, while other lawsuits have dealt with sexual and physical abuse. What surprises Parker is that these companies continue getting new contracts.

“Private prison companies are not accountable to anyone,” Parker says. “They are accountable to their shareholders – not to us the people – not even to Congress, not even to the Department of Homeland Security.”

One complaint filed late last month against GEO by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund says new lawsuits may be on the way, that immigrant mothers say they’re being sexually assaulted and harassed in front of their children. A similar complaint was also filed by the Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.

Last week, GEO Group disputed the allegations and the lack of oversight, saying in an email that the facility in Karnes County "provides a safe, clean, and family friendly environment for mothers and children." GEO said onsite personnel with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "provide direct oversight."

KUT was scheduled to visit the Karnes facility again today, but GEO Group has postponed the tour indefinitely. 

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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