Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Detention facility for immigrant kids sued for violating and abuse their civil and constitutional rights.
Eight immigrant teenagers held at a facility for unaccompanied minors filed a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming they were abused and denied access to attorneys.
The teens from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Cuba were being held at the San Antonio facility run by Houston-based Cornell Companies Inc. under a contract with the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Undocumented minors caught by authorities in the United States fall under the care of ORR while their immigration cases are decided.
But Susan Watson, an attorney for Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, said the teens were beaten and subjected to other excessive force in violation of their constitutional rights.
At least one teen was knocked unconscious, but complaints to facility administrators were ignored, according to the lawsuit.
Officials at Cornell also denied the teens access to attorneys by unnecessarily transferring them to other facilities before scheduled lawyer meetings, the lawsuit alleges.
The suit names Cornell and 15 employees along with three employees of ORR. It does not name ORR itself because the teens have not filed or exhausted their administrative claims against the agency, a requirement that must be fulfilled before the federal government can be sued.
"We vociferously dispute the charges in the lawsuit, and we'll make our case in court," said Cornell spokesman Charles Siegel.
The facility has 122 beds, but Cornell has a contract to house no more than 25 unaccompanied minors there, Seigel said.
Calls to officials at ORR were not immediately returned .
The allegations raised by the immigrant teens were not the first against Cornell.
Arkansas fired Cornell from the operation of a juvenile facility in November 2006 after finding employees inappropriately injected youth with anti-psychotic medication to control behavior.
And in September, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials removed 600 detainees from an Albuquerque, N.M., facility run by Cornell, citing failure to maintain safety, health and well-being standards there.