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Vote postponed on expanding family detention center

Karnes County questions future legal liability

KARNES COUNTY – Tuesday's expected vote by Karnes County commissioners regarding the federal government's expansion of a recently opened detention center for immigrant mothers and childrenwas postponed until next week.

If approved, it's expected the capacity would more than double from its current 500-plus beds to possibly as many as 1,300.

The commissioners court is being asked to amend its existing contract with the GEO Group that dates back to 1998 when the facility first held male immigrants.

The contract itself, held up for the packed audience to see, is two inches thick.

"I don't have enough time to read through it and make a proper decision," said Peter Jauer, who represents Precinct 2 where the detention center is located.

Jauer said he is among those commissioners who also want amendments that would further protect the county from future legal liability.

He said among his concerns is a breach of contract clause that he said should be allowed to expire.

"That is a very bad clause in the contract. Shouldn't have been in there, but it's in there," Jauer said.

The court was told in a briefing by one of its attorneys, as it is now, the GEO Group is paid $2 million monthly to house immigrant families.

In a statement, a spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said no agreements or details have been finalized regarding the proposed expansion.

ICE statement

Statement:
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is interested the potential expansion of detention capacity for adults with children at Karnes County Residential Center (KCRC) in Karnes City, Texas.

However, no agreements or details have been finalized. While numbers of illegal migrants crossing into south Texas have decreased significantly since the summer, ICE must be prepared for traditional, seasonal increases in illegal migration.

The expansion of KCRC will provide invaluable additional capacity if apprehensions of adults with children surge this spring.

ICE's residential centers for adults with children are an effective and humane alternative to maintain family unity as families await the outcome of immigration hearings or return to their home countries."

EXTERNAL Background Information:
"KCRC is the first facility built from the ground up with ICE civil immigration detention reforms in mind.

ICE ensures that our residential centers operate in an open environment, which includes medical care, play rooms, social workers, educational services and access to legal counsel."

Jonathan Ryan, an immigrant advocate and executive director of RAICES (Rescue and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services), said thanks to legal waivers, even if the county rejects the GEO proposal, "They may be subject to a suit, but there are probably no damages that GEO could in fact request," he said.

GEO Group representatives at the meeting Tuesday told the court they are open to negotiations with the county.

It is expected the Karnes County Commissioners will vote Dec. 17.