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Privatized Immigration Detention Centers to be Focus of Federal Review

Protestors left their signs on the fence surrounding the South Texas Family Residential Center near Dilley, Texas on May 2, 2015. (Ryan McCrimmon)

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Monday called for a review of its current policy of detaining undocumented immigrants in private, for-profit facilities — several of which are in Texas.

The announcement comes after the U.S. Department of Justice called for a phasing out of its contracts with private facilities this month.

In a statement, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said Homeland Security Advisory Council Chairman Judge William Webster will spearhead the review and form a committee to look into whether the current system should be abolished.

“I asked that the Subcommittee consider all factors concerning [Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s] detention policy and practice, including fiscal considerations,” Johnson said. The review is due at the end of November.

The shuttering of contracts with private companies used for immigration detention would affect several companies that operate in Texas, including the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America. The two companies have been under the microscope for years by opponents of for-profit detention but have gained even more notoriety since they began housing undocumented immigrant women and children in Karnes City and Dilley.

The facility in Dilley is operated by Corrections Corporation of America and has about 2,400 beds, while the Karnes City unit operated by the GEO Group can hold about 600 people.

Private immigration detention centers are also located in Webb County, HoustonPearsall and several other locations across the state. Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit organization that opposes private prisons and detention centers, said the country’s private immigration-detention companies control more than 60 percent of the beds in the country.

“I am cautiously optimistic because I think there is plenty of evidence as to why DHS should end its contracts with private prisons,” he told the Tribune on Monday. “This is a system that has become very, very privatized and very troubling.”

Libal said a lot of the concerns mirror many of the reasons the Justice Department cited for severing ties with private prisons, including allegations of abuse and violence within those facilities. For years several undocumented immigrants have also engaged in weekslong hunger strikes to protest what they say is inhumane treatment by poorly trained detention officers.

The private companies have said that providing a safe environment at the facilities is their top priority, and that they work closely with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to ensure that goal is met.

- Julián Aguilar, Texas Tribune. This story originally appeared here.