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Debate continues on controversial effort to license family detention centers as child-care facilities

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether to license two federal family detention camps in the south Texas towns of Karnes and Dilley. In November 2015, Grassroots Leadership won an injunction that prohibited the state from passing an emergency rule to license the centers and mandated that the public be given an opportunity to comment on the licensing. At the public hearing held on December 9, more than 40 people testified against licensing including legal service providers, immigrant rights groups, faith leaders, and a former psychologist at the Karnes family detention camp. Over 1000 people also submitted written comments to TDFPS in opposition to the licensing.

At the time of the hearing, state officials including Governor Greg Abbott stated that the purpose of the licensing was to ensure the well-being of the children held at the Texas family detention centers. However, the state initiated its attempt to license the facilities after Federal District Court Judge Dolly Gee issued a decision that these family detention camps violate multiple of the standards set by the Flores Settlement for the detention of children by federal immigration officials. One of these standards is that children must be held in licensed childcare facilities.

As the agency and advocates prepare for another licensing hearing on February 4, state officials now admit that the decision to pursue licensing of the facilities stems from this federal court decision. “The (judge’s) decision left Texas and the federal government with an option to regulate the facility, or have these illegal immigrants released into Texas communities without regard for the federal government’s immigration disposition process,” Department of Family and Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins told the American-Statesman. “The federal government therefore requested licensure to prevent this and Texas agreed.”

Grassroots Leadership says that state officials’ new position confirms that the well-being of immigrant children was not the motive for licensing. The organization’s Executive Director Bob Libal told the American-Statesman, “This is not about the welfare of children...This is a desperate attempt for the state to bail out the federal government’s immigrant detention regime.”