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Last week, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) announced the opening of the Karnes County Civil Detention Center in Karnes, Texas. This civil detention center opening is a significant milestone in the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) efforts to reform the immigration detention system. As Gary Mead, ICE Executive Associate Director remarked in a New York Times story on the opening:
“To bring the fundamental changes to a system that was that big and that diverse, we knew it was going to be difficult and time-consuming, but after three years, we have a lot to show for it. This is the most tangible evidence of that.”
Photo Credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
In August 2009, ICE Director John Morton announced that the overhaul of the immigration detention system would be one of ICE’s highest priorities. At the time, ICE relied on as many as 350 different detention facilities largely designed for penal, not civil detention. ICE set out to develop an overall immigration detention reform initiative that would help meet ICE’s unique detention needs. They created an Office of Detention Policy and Planning to coordinate the agency’s overall detention reform effort and established an Office of Detention Oversight to conduct targeted inspections of detention facilities and investigate complaints or reported abuses.
With collaboration across ICE and input from two advisory groups of local and national organizations focused on detention reform, ICE has implemented several reforms including: consolidating the number of detention facilities ICE uses; reducing detainee transfers within the system so that individuals can remain close to their families, communities, and attorneys; housing individuals in different environments based on their risk level; ensuring that detainees receive adequate medical and mental health care; and providing them with more access to services, recreation and natural light. ICE has also developed an online tool for family, friends and attorneys to be able to quickly and reliably locate individuals detained in detention facilities.
The opening of the Karnes facility is the next important step in ICE’s long-term commitment to reforming the detention system. It’s the first civil detention center built from the ground up and designed to improve confinement conditions and address ICE’s detention needs. The facility consists of dorms that will house adult male, low-risk, minimum security detainees and will allow for greater movement, enhanced recreational opportunities and services, and daily contact visitation with family and close friends. As an Administration, we know there is more work to be done to make the immigrant detention system more civil and humane, and are committed to continuing detention reform efforts.
To learn more about ICE’s continued detention reform efforts, visit the ICE website at: www.ice.gov/detention-reform.
Felicia Escobar is a Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Domestic Policy Council.