Human Rights

This Foreign Firm Wants to Break Into the U.S. 'Market' of Detaining Refugee Women and Children

British-owned Serco was just given the green light to negotiate the opening of a family immigrant detention center in Texas.

Photo Credit: khwanchai.s / Shutterstock.com

The deportation of Central American refugees under the Obama administration is such “booming business” a British company is seeking to open its own family detention center in Texas and may be given the green light.

The British-owned multinational security firm Serco is accused of severely violating the rights of refugees in Australia and the United Kingdom. But on Monday, Jim Wells County Commissioners “voted to authorize Judge Pedro ‘Pete’ Treviño Jr. to begin negotiations with the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Serco Inc.,” Corpus Christi Caller-Times journalist Chris Ramirez reports.

According to Guardian reporters Oliver Laughland and Renée Feltz, the go-ahead was granted following a “closed-door session between Serco lobbyists and the county’s five commissioners.”

If it goes through, the deal will transform La Hacienda Nursing Home home, which was closed two years ago, into a refugee detention center that would incarcerate mothers and their children.

Serco’s push to get a corner on the U.S. market comes as the Obama administration unleashes another wave of deportations targeting refugees and immigrants primarily from Central American countries. Meanwhile, according to Customs and Border Protections, nearly a quarter million people have been detained at the U.S.-Mexico border since October, with roughly 38,000 in April alone.

Since 2014, the mass detention of families has been a foundation of the Obama administration’s immigration policies toward refugees from Central America, many of whom are fleeing violence and poverty worsened by U.S. policies. Such imprisonment has resulted in a humanitarian nightmare that has been condemned by human rights organizations, the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the incarcerated people themselves, who have waged protests and hunger strikes against demeaning and dangerous conditions.

Earlier this year, GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America boasted that their respective family detention centers, also located in Texas, are bringing windfall profits for their shareholders.

Now Serco is seeking to get an edge on this market, even as its track record is marred by atrocities. The company is accused of condoning and directly perpetuating sexual violence against women and children, a particularly troubling fact given that it seeks to open a camp to incarcerate women and children.

According to a report from Black Women's Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape in 2014, Serco has denied and covered up the "regime of predatory sexual abuse (including racist sexual abuse) that has been allowed to flourish” at its private Yarl’s Wood immigrant detention center in Bedfordshire, England. In 2015, Nick Hardwick, chief British prisons inspector, called the facility a “place of national concern,” noting that it was failing women. And in 2010, the British Children's Commissioner, Albert Aynsley-Green, found that children are subject to “extremely distressing” conditions at the facility.

Meanwhile, Serco has been managing all of Australia’s immigrant detention centers since 2009 and faces dozens of accusations of sexual assault, including allegations that staff molested children.

"The answer to the family detention crisis is not contracting for new detention camps, regardless of where they are or who operates them. The answer is ending the practice of locking up kids and their moms once and for all,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, in a press statement released Tuesday. “The Obama administration has a choice—will its legacy be ending family detention or codifying the largest trend in locking up families in this country since Japanese internment."

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Sarah Lazare was a former staff writer for AlterNet and Common Dreams. She coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.