Expansion of DHS immigrant center clears local hurdle

Commissioners in Karnes County, Texas, voted Tuesday night in favor of a plan that will expand a controversial facility that houses migrant families — officially adding 600 beds to an embattled system championed by the Obama administration.

The commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of expanding the facility from 600 beds to 1,200. They were told that to reject it would constitute a breach of contract with the private company that runs the facility, according to reports.

The county will earn an additional $125,000 and more in new tax revenue every year because of the expansion. 
Construction on the expansion will begin within 30 to 60 days.

{mosads}The detention center is one of several that holds mothers and children who have crossed the border, many of whom say they are fleeing persecution or abuse and are seeking asylum.

It was opened to deal with the surge this summer of migrants coming across the southern border.

Lawmakers and advocates have been saying for months that the mothers are mistreated at the facility and that some have been sexually assaulted by guards.

A complaint filed on behalf of the mothers by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund alleged that guards at the facility requested sexual favors from women in return for money and the promise of helping with their immigration cases. The claim also said that guards would kiss or fondle mothers in front of children and other detainees.

The lawyer behind the complaint said that it was worrisome that Department of Homeland Security was working to expand the facility before an investigation into the group’s allegations had concluded.

“In our view, waiting for the outcome of the investigation is crucial to the safety of these women and children,” said Marisa Bono, a staff attorney for MALDEF.

She said that an investigation by DHS’s inspector general was underway into the claims about the facility.
Some members of Congress have tried to slow the growth of the family detention system. In October, a group of 32 House Democrats sent a letter to President Obama asking that he stop expanding the system until the issues with the system had been worked out.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) who was instrumental in assembling the letter, criticized the decision to expand the center in Karnes.

“The expansion of the Karnes Detention center represents yet another troubling increase in family detention. Members of Congress, including myself, have expressed serious concerns to the Administration regarding its policy of detaining women and children,” Lofgren said in a statement.

But the administration has continued to grow the program in advance of an expected surge of migrants next year. This week, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson traveled to Texas to open a new detention 2,400-bed facility for mothers and children in Dilley, Texas. That facility will be the largest immigration detention facility in the country.

Administration officials have expressed optimism that the facilities will act as a deterrent for mothers who are considering crossing the border. 

This story was updated at 7:33 p.m.


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