From the Field

Uprising at Texas prison sheds light on deplorable conditions for incarcerated immigrants

Lindsay Schubiner • Feb 24, 2015
The Willacy County Correctional Center is nicknamed “Tent City” while it was an ICE-contracted facility because two thirds of the facility is built out of a series of Kevlar pods. The facility was also dubbed “Ritmo” (or Raymondville’s Guantanamo) of its enormous size and appalling conditions. via Grassroots Leadership

Anti-immigrant forces want the public to forget about the human costs of the out-of-control U.S. immigration enforcement system.

Last Friday, people incarcerated in a Texas prison staged an uprising that took police two days to subdue and left the prison uninhabitable. Willacy County Correctional Center is part of a group of thirteen prisons that incarcerated immigrants under the Criminal Alien Requirement program. These immigrants reportedly organized the uprising to protest the insufficient medical care they receive, just one of many appalling conditions in Willacy prison that have been uncovered.

Grassroots Leadership: Seven things to know about uprising at Texas private prison for immigrants on

The Grassroots Leadership blog explores the situation at Willacy further, identifying a few key take-aways:

The Willacy facility was so plagued with abuse and mismanagement that ICE ended its contract. The Willacy County Correctional Center was formerly an Immigration and Customs Enforcment (ICE) contracted detention center where sexual and physical abuse and medical neglect were so rampant that ICE ended its contract in 2011. Immigration advocates regularly protested the facility and a Maria Hinojosa-reported exposé for Frontline was one of the many pieces denoting the appalling conditions at Willacy.”

CAR facilities are horrible places, but insanely profitable for private prison corporations. The contract for the Willacy County Correctional Center with the BOP is worth more than half a billion dollars over the course of the 10 year contract.”

CAR prisons are expanding because the government is criminally prosecuting immigrants en masse at the border. Even at a time of bi-partisan support for federal criminal justice reforms, mass prosecutions of immigrants for crossing the border continue. In fact, since the initiation of ‘Operation Streamline’ in the mid-2000s, two simple immigration charges have become the most prosecuted offenses in the federal court system, accounting for than 90,000 criminal prosecutions in 2013. Recently, the U.N. Committee for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination called for the abolition of Operation Streamline, and the end to the criminal prosecution of what were once civil immigration offenses.”

Fusion: Two-day uprising at immigrant prison was ‘predictable,’ reform advocates say

Fusion reports:

“All are run by private companies, a fact advocates for immigration and prison reform say results in a second-class system with insufficient oversight.

“‘It’s a predictable consequence of the Bureau of Prisons turning a blind eye to the abuse at Criminal Alien Requirement prisons,’ said Carl Takei, a staff attorney at the ACLU who visited the facility in 2013.

“’Willacy is aptly a symbol of everything that is wrong with the criminalization of immigration and BOP’s use of privatization,’ Takei told Fusion.

“And inmates have reportedly talked about attacking the facility for years.

“‘Sometimes [prisoners] become so frustrated that they even speak of burning down the tents,’ an inmate named Dante told the ACLU more than a year ago.

“Takei said when he visited Willacy inmates described ‘vermin and insects’ crawling in and out of the tents, overflowing toilets, along with severe overcrowding.”

Although anti-immigrant forces surely want the public to forget about the human costs of the out-of-control U.S. immigration enforcement system, the immigrants at Willacy have shown that they have the power to undermine these plans and fight for their rights. Let’s make sure they win.

Lindsay Schubiner is the Senior Program Manager at the Center for New Community.

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