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Proposed legislation would provide state license to immigrant family detention centers

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Karnes County Detention Center
State lawmakers in Austin have proposed a bill that would allow the state of Texas to license two family detention centers near San Antonio as childcare facilities, reports the San Antonio Express

Since the two facilities hold both adults and children, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) wouldn't license the facilities when they opened in 2014 following a large influx of Central America families seeking asylum in the US. In 2015, a federal judge ruled that family detention centers, such as those in Karnes City and Dilley, were not allowed to hold families for extended periods of time because the centers were not licensed and the families could not leave.

Following the ruling, the Department of Family and Protective Services made an emergency rule change which allowed it to license the facilities, leading to a lawsuit by immigrant families who had been detained in those facilities. A judge in Austin then ruled that the state did not have the power to inspect and license family detention center with action in the Texas Legislature. 

Identical bills in the Texas Senate and House would allow DFPS to license family detention centers, allowing mothers and children to be detained in jail-like conditions for extended period of times. It would also give the department permission to exempt the family detention facilities from the state rules governing child care facilities. Though the facilities have classrooms and play-areas, the American Academy of Pediatrics has outlined many negative aspects of family detention, and stated the facilities are "inappropriate for children and don’t meet basic needs or standards of child care". The two facilities in Texas are both operated by for-profit prison companies who would see an increase in profit if the bill passed, as it would allow them to detain mothers and children for extended periods of time. The Karnes City facility is owned and operated by the GEO Group, while the facility in Dilley is owned by CoreCivic.