Texas: immigration detainees protest death, seize hostages

On Dec. 12, some 1,300 federal prisoners staged an uprising at the privately run Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas, to demand better medical treatment after a detainee died at the facility, allegedly of natural causes. The Reeves County Detention Center has been run since 2003 by the GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Florida, under contract with the federal government. The medium security prison holds more than 2,400 people, mainly inmates detained for immigration law violations. The uprising took place after the detainee’s body was removed from the prison, Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper John Barton told the Pecos Enterprise. The prisoners set a fire in an exercise room at the facility and were evacuated to an outdoor yard, where they took two prison recreation workers hostage. The newspaper reported that firefighters had to extinguish bonfires inmates had set to keep warm overnight.

About 30 agents from the Border Patrol’s Marfa Sector were deployed to the detention center in response to the incident. The border agents arrived with an assortment of less-than-lethal weapons, an armored vehicle and support from a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air & Marine Huey helicopter. CBP used the helicopter to allow a prison official to conduct aerial surveillance of the compound. The border agents surrounded the facility and guarded the perimeter but apparently did not enter it. After about 17 hours, negotiators from the police department of Odessa, Texas managed to end the uprising and secure the release of the two hostages on the morning of Dec. 13. Barton, the DPS trooper, said there were minor injuries during the standoff; he declined to say who or how many people were hurt. Patricia Dieschler, a DPS dispatcher in Pecos, said there were no injuries to responding law enforcement officers. (AP, Dec. 13; CBP news release, Dec. 16; Austin American-Statesman, Dec. 14 with info from wire reports)

In other detention news, German immigrant Guido Newborough died of apparent cardiac failure at the Medical College of Virginia Hospital in Richmond on Nov. 28, a day after being transported to the hospital from the Piedmont Regional Jail in Farmville, Virginia, where he had been detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since Feb. 19. Newborough was transported to the hospital a day after the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissed his appeal and affirmed a final order of removal against him. (Undated statement from Andrew Strait at ICE, forwarded to the Detention Watch Network listserve on Dec. 4) On Dec. 7, about 15 activists working with a group called The People United carried out a leafleting action at Farmville’s annual Christmas parade, followed by a vigil at the Piedmont Regional jail, to protest Newborough’s death and blast plans for a new jail in the area. (The People United website, undated, accessed Dec. 28)

On Dec. 8, ICE began transferring all 153 immigration detainees housed at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island, to other jails and prisons around the Northeast. The move came without explanation, a day before a team of investigators from ICE headquarters in Washington and elsewhere was expected to arrive at the detention facility to look into the death last August of Chinese immigrant Hiu Lui Ng while he was in Wyatt custody. (Providence Journal, Dec. 9)

From Immigration News Briefs, Dec. 28

See our last post on the politics of immigration.