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Family detention centers struggle to get licensed

The GEO Group, a private prison company who operates a family detention center in Texas, is struggling to get their center licensed, reports the Associated Press.

As reported earlier, state lawmakers in Texas have proposed a bill that would license two family detention centers near San Antonio. The licensing was made necessary after a federal judge ruled that children held longer that 20 days must be housed in "non-secure" facilities with child care licenses. Because of this, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services issued an emergency licensing to the two facilities so they would not close. This licensing was then challenged by immigrant families and allies, with a Austin judge ruling that the facilities could not be licensed, giving hope that this facilities would close down.

Now legislators are considering easing requirements for child care facilities so the two family detention facilities could be licensed. However, opponents say the bill would license the centers without improving conditions. Attorneys have warned that it could invite a costly lawsuit. A state representative who introduced the measure acknowledged that the proposed legislation came directly from GEO Group, the nation's second-largest private prison company, which operates Karnes.

"I've known the lady who's their lobbyist for a long time ...That's where the legislation came from," said state Rep. John Raney, a Republican from the rural town of Bryan. "We don't make things up. People bring things to us and ask us to help."

According to a report by Texans for Public Justice, GEO Group's political action committee has spent up to $320,000 lobbying the Texas Legislature since January and contributed $193,000 to Texas lawmakers' campaigns since 2013. Despite GEO Group's heavy lobbying, neither the Senate or House version of the licensing bill are likely to pass.

Immigrant women in detention with their children say the lockdown buildings could never qualify as child care providers. That includes Suyapa, a 35-year-old Honduran mother who was detained with her three children and grandson in February in Karnes.

"A jail isn't a school," said Suyapa, who spoke on the condition that her last name not be used since her asylum case is pending. "My son got sick and turned yellow, and they said the doctor didn't have time to see my child."