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Family detention centers can move forward with child care licensing despite outcry

University of Texas alumni staged a sit-in at the office of the dean at the McCombs school of business in Austin during a protest to end family detention in 2014.
University of Texas alumni staged a sit-in at the office of the dean at the McCombs school of business in Austin during a protest to end family detention in 2014.
Last month the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), approved a proposed rule that would allow the licensing of family detention centers as a child care facilities to move forward. But the outcry against the decision has only increased.

The move is widely understood to allow the facilities remain open after Judge Dolly Gee’s 2015 ruling said the federal government could not hold children in secure, unlicensed facilities. Immigration and child welfare advocates oppose the licensing of the facilities and say the state is lowering child care standards.

The Austin Chronicle reported on some of the reactions to the news:

“Child-care facilities exist to take care of children," wrote Virginia Raymond, an Austin-based immigration attorney who vocally opposes the move. The state of Texas, which requires most child-care centers to be licensed, also mandates through DFPS the specific minimal standards those centers must meet. Because family detention centers cannot meet those standards, these critical requirements are waived for the sole purpose of licensing these centers, so they can legally remain open.”

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission which houses the Department of Family and Protective Services responded with “ the licensure would protect the health and safety of children, as they found "an imminent peril to the public's health, safety, or welfare." However, the decision to license family detention centers is in fact the state's preferred approach to comply with a court order of last summer.” “The adopted rule (Rule 40) to license family detention centers, which became effective March 1, exempts the two facilities in Dilley and Karnes City from three of the minimum residential standards: 1) the limitation of four occupants to a room; 2) the limitation on a child sharing a bedroom with an adult; and 3) the limitations on children of different genders sharing rooms.”

Cristina Parker of Grassroots Leadership argues that “"Licensing family detention centers will not improve the conditions for children and women; DFPS is not seeking to make detention centers into child-care facilities,”. She and other advocates argue that these facilities will not any safer but that standards have been lowered for the facilities to remain open citing the facilities conditions as proof that they are not suitable for housing children.

“Six days a week, I walk into this facility [Dilley] and I meet with over 150 mothers who with them are their children who all are sick. They are crying. They have fevers. ... They are bloated. They have diarrhea. ... That is what we see every single day. And it is a sign of both the inadequacy of the child care that is provided and also the inhuman standards in which these children are put," testified Ian Philabaum, the underground project coordinator for the CARA pro bono project at Dilley.

The Karnes and Dilley detention centers will now have to apply for their licenses in the counties where they are located, Karnes and Frio Counties, respectively. We'll post updates when those hearing dates are announced. 

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Lawsuit halts licensing of private family detention centers as childcare facilities, at least for now

CCA's family detention center in Dilley
CCA's family detention center in Dilley
A lawsuit filed by Grassroots Leadership (my organization, and a co-sponsor of Texas Prison Bid'ness) won a temporary injunction on November 20th that halts the Texas' Department of Family and Protective Services from licensing two large, for-profit detention centers in South Texas as childcare facilities.  Private prison corporations Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group are seeking the licenses for the prisons in Dilley and Karnes City respectively in order to comply with a finding by Federal Judge Dolly Gee that detaining children in unlicensed, secure detention centers violates a decades old settlement known as Flores.   

250th District Judge Karin Crump ruled that the state had errered in issuing and emergency that allowed the agency to license the facilities without interested parties, including Grassroots Leadership, being able to comment on the licensure rule.  The state has now issued a proposed permanent rule on the licensing that allows public comment before December 13th.  

Similar to the emergency rule, the permanent rule also proposes to reduce child safety standards that are applicable to all other childcare facilities in Texas, essentially fitting the licensing regulation to the facilities rather than making the two detention centers meet all normal child welfare standards.  Organizations and invividuals are able to make comments on the proposed licensure of the facilities through a form on the Grassroots Leadership website.  

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Some say immigrant family detention policy may disappear after court ruling

The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mid-September 2014.
The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mid-September 2014.
According to memos from a migrant attorney group, a tentative court ruling regarding the legality of detaining immigrant women and children was made by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in California on April 24. The 22-page ruling states that the Obama administration’s policy of detaining migrant children is in violation with an 18-year-old settlement called Flores v. Meese.

According to McClatchy DC, the ruling has not officially been filed but the migrant lawyers and federal attorneys were given 30 days to come to an agreement. Now that the 30 days have passed, the agreement has been given an extension. Gee will issue a final ruling on the matter if no agreement is reached.

McClatchy reports that some believe the tentative court ruling could force the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to drastically change current policy. They may decide to take any number of options: release undocumented women and children into the community; release the children but detain the mothers; or completely overhaul the way the agency shelters the migrants until their cases are heard by immigration courts.

According to the memos, the Flores ruling states that children and their mothers cannot be detained in unlicensced, secure facilities like the Karnes County Residential Center and the South Texas Family Residential Center. It also states that it is inappropriate for migrant women and children to be detained unless they pose a safety risk to the community.

In 1997’s Flores v. Meese case, the settlement called for minors to be in the custody of family or legal guardians if available. The case also stipulates that the government is only allowed to detain children in safe and sanitary facilities that are licensed.

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