Last week, seventy-eight incarcerated mothers at GEO Group’s Karnes County Detention Center in Texas signed a letter announcing a hunger and work strike and to demand their immediate release. Now Roque Planas at the Huffington Post is reporting that some of those mothers were put in solitary confinement with their children in response to the protest.
Aura Bogado obtained the prisoners’ letter for Colorlines.com, and writes that “most have brought their children from Guatemala and El Salvador—countries with some of the highest femicide rates on the planet.” She continues:
The mothers who’ve signed the letter have all been interviewed by immigration officials and have established a credible fear of persecution or torture if they were to be deported. But they either haven’t been given an opportunity to post bond for release, or the bond amount has been set too high. Their letter, in part, reads:
“[D]uring this [time], no mother will work in the detention center, nor will we send our children to school, not will we use any services here, until we are heard and approved: we want our FREEDOM.”
The strike began Monday with some 40 women and it has no definite end date. At a facility like Karnes, where detainees run a lot of the essential services, a strike can also impact people who aren’t participating.
An immigration officer I spoke with at Karnes who repeatedly declined to give her name laughed when I called on Tuesday. I asked why she was laughing and she answered, “These attorneys convinced them all to do stuff,” and shortly thereafter they hung up on me. Phone calls to GEO Group staff at Karnes have not been returned.
At so-called “family residential detention centers” like Karnes, mothers and children captured crossing the US-Mexico border are incarcerated together. The women are paid $3 per day to help run the facility. Because Karnes County is also home to massive fracking operations and water contamination, many have to drink bottled water — which happens to cost $3.
This demonstration is the latest in what appears to be a growing protest movement by immigrant detainees at private prisons across the country. Last year, hundreds of immigrant detainees staged a 14 hour protest against their mistreatment and conditions at the CCA-operated Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown. The Bureau of Prisons decided not to renew that contract. Those inmates were sent to federal prisons elsewhere in the country.
In February of this year, immigrant prisoners at the MTC-operated “gladiator school” tent city in Raymondville, Texas, began a demonstration in which several of the Kevlar-domed housing units were damaged by fire. That prison has been closed and the inmates have been moved to other federal prisons as well.
In both cases, the communities that hosted these private prison companies suffered greatly. Youngstown, which like many towns throughout America is still recovering from the recession and the offshoring of industry, lost 185 jobs at once. It is expected to lose millions in tax revenues — money meant for education and other essential public works. Over 360 people lost jobs in Raymondville after the protest at Willacy. S&P recently downgraded the Willacy County’s bonds to junk, and taxpayers in both communities will be left to fill the budget gaps. These are some of the very real consequences of prison privatization that people rarely talk about: what happens to the community when things get so bad they suddenly lose their contract?
And as for the prisoners: the response to their demonstrations seem to be a double-edged sword. Will the action at Karnes escalate to the point of Youngstown and Willacy, forcing the government to act and even cancel the contract? More importantly, if that happens, will the prisoners’ demands be met or will they be ‘disappeared’ throughout the country like the others?