Karnes immigrant detention center softens its image

Detention center softens up in preparation for immigrant children

Immigration facility designed to handle children
Bunk beds are set up in an immigration detention center that's been transformed to handle the influx of immigrant children. (KXAN Photo).

KARNES CITY, Texas (KXAN) — A 29-acre facility which previously housed male illegal immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a makeover and a new purpose. The building nearly 100 miles south of Austin in Karnes City, Texas will now be the temporary home for immigrant women and children detained at the border.

It will also be a much more family friendly environment.

“I am pretty sure you will agree this is nothing like we have seen before,” said ICE field office director Enrique Lucero during Thursday’s media tour of the facility.

Previously, the people being held at the facility were called detainees. Now they will be called residents. Guards are now called resident advisors. Even the facility itself will be referred to as a resident center rather than a detention center.

Lucero said the building will provide a safe and sound environment for families who are waiting for either asylum or a return to their home country.

“While they are getting their due process and going through the proceedings, we will provide a safe environment for them.”

The amenities do not stop simply at safe. Families will be given a health examination upon arrival along with six sets of fresh clothing for each member. Doctor attention will be available at all times and residents will have access to a dentist. Even the walls of the center have been painted with many colorful characters and pictures as many children are expected to call it home.

“There will be cartoons playing for children and games of that nature,” said Lucero.

Other amenities include recreational fields, a library, internet access, and a cafeteria which will serve three all-you-can-eat meals a day. Certified teachers will also be on site to provide year-round education and small jobs will also be available paying $3 a day for four hours of work.

ICE modified its contract with Karnes County on July 11th to allow for the re-purposing of the facility. The county contracts with The GEO Group to run the day-to-day operations.

Lucero said the average stay for an ICE detainee is 23 days and they will try to maintain that average at the Karnes County Residential Center which has 532 beds. Still, during a press conference after Thursday’s tour, he warned the accommodations should not be motivation for anyone trying to illegally cross the border.

“Do not risk the lives of your children or risk your life. This is a dangerous journey coming to the U.S.,” Lucero said. “The U.S. border is not open to immigration and after your immediate detention and due process, there is every likelihood you will be returned to your home country.”

However, pro bono immigration attorney service will be available on-site according to Lucero and those seeking asylum will have an opportunity to see an immigration judge.

“We need to ensure there is a community of attorneys willing to help with the humanitarian crisis at the border,” said Boston Cote, an attorney offering her services pro bono. “We need a way to ensure the integrity of the system is preserved.”

Uunlike the criminal justice system, the immigration system does not afford the right to free and legal counsel, Cote said. She is working to see that the rights of the children are not violated.

Some other facts about the residential center:

  • Families will be able to move throughout the center freely from 6am to 10pm.
  • Visitors will be allowed from 8am to 8pm.
  • Cable television is available in each 8-person suite.
  • Recreation activities include exercise equipment, a soccer field, basketball court, and volleyball court.
  • A computer lab allows some internet access and email services but restricts social media.

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