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Karnes County Family Detention Center

Bill that would license "baby jails" dies in the Texas House

A bill before the Texas House of Representatives that would allow the licensing of family detention centers as child care facilities has died, reports The Eagle.

The bill, which was authored by by Rep. John Raney, was not heard before Thursday's midnight deadline to hear bills. The bill, House Bill 2225, would have allowed the two family detention centers located in Texas to be licensed as child care facilities. By licensing the facilities, the women and children detained in these detention camps could have been detained for even longer periods of time. The Senate version of the same bill was passed 20-11 along party lines and was referred to a House committee, where it could still be sent to to the House floor for a vote.

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.   

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Texas Senate passes bill that will license 'baby jails' as childcare facilities

The Texas Senate passed a bill that would allow family detention camps to be licensed as child care facilities, reports Raw Story. The bill now heads to the House.

The bill would allow family detention centers to be licensed as child care facilities, which would extend the length of detention for mothers in children detained at the centers. A federal judge ruled in 2015 that children could not be held in secure facilities that are not licensed child care facilities. To try and circumvent that ruling, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) approved a rule that would allow the licensing of family detention centers to continue.

This approved rule was then challenged by a lawsuit that was filed by immigrant families who had been detained in Karnes and Dilley — the two family detention centers located in Texas. An Austin-area judge issued a final judgement in December of 2016 that prevented DFPS from licensing the facilities. This ruling has been appealed by the Texas Attorney General.

500 immigrant women and children released from detention

The Huffington Post writes that nearly 500 immigrant women and children were released from two Texas family detention centers this past weekend.

Women and children from both the South Texas Family Residential and the Karnes Family Residential Center were released over the weekend, following a ruling by an Austin judge that the state of Texas cannot license family detention centers as childcare facilities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) denied that the releases had anything to do with the court ruling and claimed that they had already been scheduled.

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Senators press Department of Homeland Security to stop family detention

A group of 17 Democratic senators called on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to end the practice of family detention, as reported by Mother Jones.

The group of senators, including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine, sent a letter to Sec. Johnson saying family detention is "wrong" and "should be ended immediately." They cited research showing how prolonged confinement can hurt children's physical and mental health. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has taken a similar position as her running mate, and called for an end to family detention.

There are currently three family detention centers in the United States, one in Pennsylvania and  two in Texas. These centers have a history of poor medical care, lack of legal access, and sexual assault.

 

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Whistleblower reveals harrowing details from inside Karnes family detention center

Olivia Lopez testifying at Congressional Progressive Caucus hearing on family detention
Olivia Lopez testifying at Congressional Progressive Caucus hearing on family detention
Social worker Olivia Lopez spoke to media and House Democrats in late July about the troubling inner workings of the GEO-operated Karnes family detention camp near San Antonio, Texas. She called what was happening at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility “tantamount to torture” and said that she was shocked when she began working at the facility to find that it was “really a prison.”

Lopez revealed that she was rebuked for attempting to provide basic social services such as showing the families the geographic location of the facility and creating better ways to document their concerns. In December, Lopez received this directive from her boss: “ICE: We don’t tell them anything.” She recalled that psychologists were encouraged to falsify records in order to leave a clean paper trail, and that they reported families’ stories to ICE agents.

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Immigrant mothers on hunger strike in Karnes family detention center say they face intimidation and retaliation

Last week immigrant mothers detained at Karnes Detention Center near San Antonio told reporters that they faced retaliation after declaring a hunger strike to demand their release and protest the conditions in which they and their children are being held.

Advocates say that although 40 to 45 women initially began participating in the hunger strike, that number decreased after three women perceived as leaders were placed in isolation in a dark medical clinic with their children overnight on Monday.

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Immigrant mothers begin Holy Week hunger strike in Karnes City family detention lock up

Hunger Strike Announcement Letter
Hunger Strike Announcement Letter

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Yesterday, reports emerged that nearly 80 immigrant women at Karnes family detention center near San Antonio signed a letter announcing that beginning this morning they would participate in a Holy Week fast, during which they would not eat, send their children to school, or use any facility services until they received an answer to their demands.

 

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Top Texas Private Prison Stories of 2014 - #2 - Karnes County votes to expand GEO’s troubled family detention camp

Almost as soon as it opened in August, the Karnes Family Detention Center was the subject of controversy.

First, immigrant rights advocates rallied around Sara and her 7-year-old daughter Nayely when word got out that the GEO Group was denying the girl medical treatment for a life-treatening brain cancer and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was refusing to release them. Calls demanding their released flooded the facility for two days.  Once reporters started calling, officials at the facility finally released Sara and Nayely. 

Nayely went on to get treatment at Dell Children's Hospital in Austin before she and her mother moved to be with family in the U.S. 

Then in October, news broke again of problems at the facility. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), along with Immigration Rights and Civil Rights Clinics at the University of Texas Law School, Human Rights First, and the Law Office of Javier N. Maldonado, filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE demanding the immediate investigation of and swift response to widespread allegations of sexual abuse and harassment at the detention center in Karnes City.

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