ResourcesPress Release

ICE Debuts New “Civil Detention” Facility for Immigrants

PHR welcomes improvements but remains skeptical

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomed today the opening of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) first civil detention center in Karnes City, Texas and called for continued reforms to the US immigration detention system.

In a few weeks, ICE, the agency charged with running the immigration detention system, will begin housing approximately 600 immigration detainees at the Karnes County Civil Detention Center.  Conditions at the center are less restrictive than those in the 250 other facilities around the country that house immigration detainees.

On Tuesday, PHR and representatives of several immigrant advocacy organizations toured the Karnes facility with Gary Mead, head of Enforcement and Removal Operations at ICE.

“Compared to most other immigration detention facilities, Karnes is a step in the right direction,” said PHR’s Asylum Advocacy Associate, Mike Corradini, who toured the facility. “If the government is going to continue to detain tens of thousands of people – most of whom do not pose a danger to society – at tremendous taxpayer expense, then they should at least be held in facilities where they’re not treated like criminals.”

Although PHR calls the Karnes facility an improvement over other immigration detention centers, its distance from a major population center and the lack of an on-site Immigration Judge to hear cases remains problematic.

With its high walls and heavy metal doors, Karnes is unmistakably a jail. But some of the improvements outlined by ICE representatives include:

  • Detainees will be largely free to move around the facility, and can access some areas twenty-four hours per day.
  • Detainees will be provided with limited internet access and inexpensive domestic and international phone calls.
  • Detainees will have twenty-four hour access to medical services.

“At the end of the day, this is still a jail that was built to house 600 people who don’t need to be in jail,” said Corradini. “Hopefully detention in Karnes will be less traumatic than it is in other facilities, but it’s no substitute for reforming the immigration system and curbing our over-reliance on detention. The bottom line is that the people who will be housed in Karnes really shouldn’t be detained at all.”

Located about an hour south of San Antonio, Karnes will be used to detain non-violent immigration detainees, including those applying for asylum.

The GEO Group, the second-largest private prison corporation in the US, developed Karnes and will run the facility when it receives its first detainees in several weeks. Many immigration advocates have decried the choice of the GEO Group, a for-profit company with a well-documented history of safety violations, to run the facility.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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Kevin Short

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