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Family detention centers are mostly empty — so why license them?

According to KUT, the two family detention centers in South Texas are mostly empty, leaving immigration judges who had been relocated to the centers with nothing to do.

Due to a low number of people being detained at the border, the number of individuals in the two family detention centers in Texas has dropped dramatically. Between the two facilities, there are only a few hundred people detained. The two facilities have a total capacity of more than 3,000.

Another reason for the low numbers is due to a federal ruling that stated that children could not be held in a secure, jail-like facility. To comply with the ruling, Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the federal agency that contracts with the family detention centers — must release the children and their mothers in a short amount of time.

To bypass that decision, Texas State lawmakers this year proposed a bill that would allow the state to license this family detention camps as child care facilities. This bill, if signed into law, would be used to circumvent the ruling that an Austin-area judge made in a lawsuit but forth by immigrant families and allies against the licensing.   

The question is, why license the centers? There are less people being detained at the border, so there is less need for these detention centers. The answer is simple.

Money.

By being able to license these family detention centers as childcare facilities, the private prison companies who operate would be able to detain mothers and children for longer periods of time.

Most contracts between private prison companies have a clause written in them where they receive a daily sum for each person detained in their facilities. If the detention centers were licensed, it would extend the amount of time each individual is detained, meaning more money for the private prison companies. The author of the proposed bill admitted that the bill was authored by the GEO Group, one of two private prison companies that operate family detention centers in Texas. This shows that money, not looking out for the well-being of mothers and children, is what really drives legislation in Texas.

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