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ICE's 'soft' detention strategy at new immigration facility begs the question: Why do lowest-risk detainees need to be detained at all?

Photo: Photos by Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Photos by Michael Barajas

The Karnes County Civil Detention Center has outdoor courtyards, basketball courts, and a soccer field, all designed to make it feel less like a prison.

Photo: , License: N/A

Immigrant detainees sleep eight to a room inside dormitory-like units

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Gary Mead, head of enforcement and removal operations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, tours the Karnes County Civil Detention Center for immigrants.



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Said Andrea Black with Detention Watch Network: "The idea that they're going to be able to spread this type of detention across the system just does not seem feasible to me, especially with the pushback they're sure to get at every step. … The danger I feel is that [Karnes] will be something nice and pristine to show off. I'm worried it's going to be a Potemkin village."

Advocates continue to hope ICE will move away from detention where conditions allow it. In its budget request for next year, ICE for the first time in recent memory asked for less money to spend on detention while requesting a $40 million boost for alternatives, a move that's already caught significant heat in Congress. U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, last month even criticized new detention standards adopted by ICE earlier this year that call for expanding medical and mental health care services for detainees, along with increasing visitation and access to legal services. "The Obama administration's new detention manual is more like a hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants," Smith charged in a prepared statement.

Touring the new Karnes facility's law library, ICE's Mead responded briefly to the criticism. "I wouldn't say they're living in the lap of luxury. … They're not free to leave. They are detained." •

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