WACO, Texas - Immigrant activists from all over Texas gathered Saturday, July 12th to protest the detention of immigrants in the Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco, Texas.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) houses 250 detainees at Harwell. The majority of the detainees are young El Salvadoran men fleeing violence at home. They have been ordered removed without the opportunity to see an immigration judge or an officer who can evaluate their fear of returning to their country. They are held in Waco until travel papers are obtained from the El Salvadoran government so that they can be returned to El Salvador. They are civil immigration detainees without criminal charges or records.
Detainees at Harwell are not provided with meaningful access to legal assistance or information about how to make a claim for asylum. Activists provided materials in Spanish to the warden of Harwell providing information about the legal system, seeking medical care and asking that they be placed in the library for detainee use.
News coverage of the rally:
News Channel 25
A nonprofit organization that provides legal counsel for asylum seekers says Waco’s Jack Harwell Detention Center should not be used to house immigration detainees prior to deportation.
Officials from American Gateways, formerly the Political Asylum Project of Austin, toured the Harwell facility in April.
They are urging U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to discontinue using it because detainees with no criminal records were being held in a jail, said Stephanie Taylor, an American Gateways attorney.
“It is clear that this is a penal institution,” Taylor said. “It houses individuals in criminal custody, and it’s very different from the other ICE facilities that our organization does work at.”
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The Harwell Detention Center on Highway 6, operated by LaSalle Corrections, held 274 immigration detainees Monday.
Loss of the $55.50 per detainee per day that ICE pays to house them would put a dent in operating revenue, officials say.
“Every little bit is important to us. . . . We definitely want to continue using ICE,” said Tim Kurpiewski, LaSalle’s director of finance. “It would definitely impact our businesses.”
LaSalle pays McLennan County about $4 million per year to cover the bond issue used to build the jail. LaSalle earns that by housing inmates from different governmental institutions, McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said.
The facility needs to hold about 600 inmates in order to cover expenses.
The McLennan County Jail sends its overflow inmates to the Harwell facility for $45.50 per day per inmate. Johnson County and the U.S. Marshals Service also send inmates to Harwell.
Taylor said Gateways simply is telling ICE to follow the guidelines its director, John Morton, set in 2009.
“The system will no longer rely primarily on excess capacity in penal institutions. . . . ICE will design facilities located and operated for immigration detention purposes,” the ICE website says. “These same reforms will bring improved medical care, custodial conditions, fiscal prudence and ICE oversight.”
ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said the organization is open to discussing any concerns with partnering agencies, but the Harwell facility has passed all its inspections.
A statement released by ICE said “independent detention inspections are conducted by private contractors with extensive corrections experience to ensure quality assurance over the review process, consistency in the application of detention standards and verification of corrective actions, if any.”
Taylor said the tour of Harwell revealed no outdoor recreation space, no contact visitation room and outdated law materials. “When you have materials that are that outdated, it really affects the ability of an individual to represent themselves before an immigration court,” she said.
Other concerns, Taylor said, were the lack of information given detainees about how long they would be held, their lack of access to an asylum officer and a confusing phone system.
“If an individual is afraid to return to their home country because they are going to face persecution, they have a right to see an asylum officer,” Taylor said. “Only one out of the 30 or so individuals we spoke to even knew this was a possibility.”
Felton said he doesn’t think ICE will remove any of its detainees from Harwell because it is a well-run and well-maintained facility.
“I would think it would be one of the last places they want to pull out of,” he said.
Federal officials are still warehousing people at the Jack Harwell Detention Center even though it has been out of compliance with state standards
(AUSTIN, Texas) — Attorneys in Austin and Waco are sounding the alarm over the conditions at an immigrant detention center in Waco. They say the Jack Harwell Detention Center is not an appropriate place to house immigrants in detention and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have not done enough to fix serious problems at the facility.
“Our interest in the Harwell Detention Center stems from a history of concerns about the facility.” said Denise Gilman, a University of Texas-Austin law professor. “There were strong incentives for the county and the private facility management company to seek contracts with ICE whether or not the facility was appropriate for immigration detention.”
In fact, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found multiple non-compliance issues at the facility in 2012. The facility is run by a private prison company who expected that the federal government would supply enough immigrant detainees to ensure that the facility was profitable.
“If any facility is unable to comply with the standards, ICE should ensure that immigrants are not detained there.” said Barbara Hines, also a University of Texas law professor. “It does not appear that ICE officials adequately considered the situation at the facility before sending immigration detainees there.”
According to ICE’s own proclamations, a penal environment is not appropriate for immigrant detainees — the majority of whom have recently crossed the border and have no criminal history at all. “It is very clearly a penal institution,” added Hines.
A recent visit to the Harwell Detention Center found several serious problems including a lack of access to an adequate law library and that what little legal materials are available are out-dated. People detained also report a lack of access to telephones to call legal service providers and inadequate visitation procedure for non-legal visits.
Under the National Detention standards, a facility holding immigration detainees "shall permit detainees access to alaw library, and provide legal materials, facilities, equipment and document copying privileges."
"None of the detainees whom we interviewed during our visit to the Harwell Detention Center knew that the legallibrary existed," said Susan Nelson, an immigration attorney in Waco, Texas. "Access to legal information is particularly crucial for people in immigration detention."
A lack of clean uniforms and little recreation options and time outdoors were also reported.
A troubling compliance inspection report, issued by the Office of Detention Oversight at the end of 2012, indicated that ICE management had not visited the facility in a year and that ICE did not keep proper records regarding communications with detainees housed there.
“Given the seriousness of the problems with the Harwell Detention Center, we have asked ICE to discontinue placement of immigration detainees at the facility,” said Stephanie Taylor, a staff attorney at American Gateways. “However, ICE has offered no response to our overarching concern that the facility is not appropriate for the detention of civil immigration detainees who do not present any security threat.”
As counties around the country start moving away from the controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement program called Secure Communities, a group of Austin lawyers has threatened to sue Travis County over its participation in the program. Read the full story at KUT News.
A National Bus Tour for Immigration Reform and Citizenship will be arriving Monday, March 10, 2014, at 5:45 p.m., in Waco at the First Assembly of God - Primera Asemblia de Dios- on 3301 Clay Ave. for a program that will began at 6:00 p.m. and last about an hour. We will hear testimonials of immigrants' lives as undocumented workers in America. The purpose is to draw national attention through prayer, fasting, collaboration among religious and other organizations and grass roots support for the need of immigration reforms that will lead to citizenship.
All are invited. PLEASE pass this notice to all your own friends.
Last Friday, I toured the Baptist Family and Children's Services Shelter in Harlingen, Texas, with the State Bar of Texas Laws Related to Immigration and Nationality Committee. This center provides residential care and services for unaccompanied children who enter the U.S. while authorities determine the appropriate steps toward reuniting them with their families or placing them in an alternate setting.
One challenge that BCFS faces is that of children who "age out" (have their 18th birthday). These young people are no longer eligible for services nor are they eligible for foster care. BCFS tries to find safe places for these young people at adult shelters. They told us the inspirational story of Yalerson Castillo, a young man from Honduras who was a resident until he turned 18. A local family who met him through soccer provided him with a home. He is currently attending Harlingen High School and playing running back on the football team.
BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — For more than two decades, Sigifredo Saldana Iracheta insisted he was a U.S. citizen, repeatedly explaining to immigration officials that he was born to an American father and a Mexican mother in a city just south of the Texas border.
Year after year, the federal government rejected his claims, deporting him at least four times and at one point detaining him for nearly two years as he sought permission to join his wife and three children in South Texas.
In rejecting Saldana's bid for citizenship, the government sought to apply an old law that cited Article 314 of the Mexican Constitution, which supposedly dealt with legitimizing out-of-wedlock births. But there was a problem: The Mexican Constitution has no such article.
The error appears to have originated in 1978, and it's been repeated ever since, frustrating an untold number of people who are legally entitled to U.S. citizenship but couldn't get it.
"What this looks like is nobody's ever checked it out. And it is shocking," said Matthew Hoppock, a Kansas City attorney who specializes in federal appeals related to immigration issues.
Saldana's case was finally resolved earlier this month, when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the government's explanation of a "typo" and ruled that he had been a citizen since birth. The error, the court said, had been "perpetuated and uncorrected" by the Department of Homeland Security.
For the 49-year-old laborer and sometime carpenter, the Sept. 11 decision ended a grueling and costly ordeal. After serving a prison sentence for a 1989 drug conviction in Texas, he told authorities he was a U.S. citizen, but was deported in 1992. Between 2002 and 2007, he applied four times for a certificate of citizenship. Each time he was deported, he was separated from his family.
"I have always lived with a fear in my house that whichever night, they'll arrive and arrest me," said Saldana, who was born in 1964 in the border city of Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville.
Days after the ruling, Saldana still seethed with frustration for all the rejections, for every time his family had to scrape together money to hire another lawyer. He rued time missed with his children, the low wages he endured as a worker without papers and the responsibilities that fell on his wife, Laura.
Saldana argued that he automatically became a U.S. citizen at birth because his father was an American.
But because his parents were not married, U.S. authorities claimed he should have been "legitimated" by age 21 in a process they claimed was governed by Mexican law, specifically the phantom Article 314.
A 2008 letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services cited the article and said the only way for Saldana to gain legal legitimacy would have been for his parents to marry.
The marriage never happened, but it didn't have to.
Saldana's birth certificate registered with the Mexican state of Tamaulipas includes both his parents' names. The appellate court said that was enough.