Covid19 at GEO: Why Is It So Hard to Get Good Information?

GEO South Texas Detention Complex, Pearsall, Texas

Today, Frio County issued a statement regarding two confirmed Covid-19 cases at the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall. Like any good government press release of bad news, it was designed to mitigate community alarm and legal liability.

But I believe I owe you some context.

What happened? The GEO immigrant detention center in Pearsall confirmed that two detainees tested positive for Covid-19.

Is that all you’re going to tell me? For now yes, because that’s all the confirmed information I have. Remember, the GEO immigrant detention center is not a public facility. It’s owned and operated by a private corporation, contracted by the Department of Homeland Security.

If they’re contracted by DHS, that means they receive public funds and should be subject to public information laws. That’s cute. There’s no time for the history of the private prison industry’s efforts to lobby for information laws that favor withholding, but for some light reading, check out: “Private Prison Lobbyists Are Raising Cash For Hillary Clinton.” And on the other end, a federal agency such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement will always withhold information in the name of protecting the public: “Inmate at Krome detention center tests positive for COVID-19. Here’s how ICE kept it quiet” and “ICE blocks release of coronavirus testing information at jail, N.J. official says

So then how did County officials find out? To this moment, I still haven’t received “official” information except for the county press release. Nothing from GEO, ICE, or Texas Department of State Health Services. County officials were on the same text-text-pass rumor mill as the rest of you, and it wasn’t until a county official actually reached out to GEO that we were able to confirm the claim about positive covid cases in the detention center.

What are the “appropriate infection control procedures” from the press release? Again, that information has to come from the people in charge of it. Namely, GEO and/or Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

What do these cases mean for Frio County? The GEO South Texas Detention Complex has a capacity of 1,904 detainees. The actual population varies, but two of the detainees have tested positive for a virus that is most contagious before symptoms appear. The facility also retains hundreds of employees and contractors, many of whom reside locally. No one can make a prediction on this. You’re capable of imagining the possibilities, even accounting for “appropriate infection control procedures.”

Well then what the f*&k am I supposed to do? This is only beginning to unfold right now. Until we have more data, the advice remains the same, wear a mask, stay six feet from people who don’t live with you, and stay home when possible. Ask the Feds to keep sending those checks because that’s the only way these measures will remain possible. Too many of us still have to go to work while at the same time being advised to stay home.

But if I’m an employee of GEO, live with one, and/or want to support them…
Then I would be asking:

  • What was the timeline from when (1) the detainees arrived, (2) showed symptoms, (3) were tested, and (4) received positive results?
  • Are there detainees that tested positive but have been moved and do not reflect in the Frio County numbers?
  • Can you show us the reports?
  • How often will we be tested?
  • How often will the detainees be tested?
  • How many employees and detainees have been tested?
  • How soon will further test result counts be released?
  • Can I get a big-a$& raise?

Disclosure: I am a Frio County Commissioner, who votes on how to spend revenue property taxes from the GEO facility. As more information is released, consider the personal or organizational financial interests of the source.

Thank you,

Jose Asuncion
Frio County Commissioner, Pct. 4