Pennsylvania Warns Family Immigrant Detention Center: Change Policies Or Lose Your License

October 23, 2015
Huffington Post

One of the three facilities that detains immigrant families in the United States will not be allowed to expand and could lose its license to operate from the state of Pennsylvania -- a major win for the advocacy groups aiming to shut down family detention.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services sent a letter on Thursday to the director of Berks County Residential Center denying a request to double its capacity from 96 to 192. That is because the facility is being used to hold "only refugee immigrant families" when its license is for "child resident facilities," Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas wrote.

If the facility continues to serve families rather than children, the department will not renew its license when it expires in February 2016, Dallas added.

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In July, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled that the family detention policy violated the 1997 Flores settlement, which says that undocumented children must be held in the least restrictive setting and immigration authorities should generally favor a policy of releasing them. The settlement prohibits detaining children for more than a few days in centers that are not licensed child care facilities.

After hearing a government response, Gee ordered the Obama administration in August to quickly release the children -- and in some instances, the mothers -- locked in family detention. She gave U.S. officials until Oct. 23 to show compliance. 

In order to comply with the ruling, the private companies that run the two family detention centers in Texas -- Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group -- have applied to license the centers as child care facilities. The Texas Department of Child Protective Services issued an emergency rule last month to start the licensing process, but the Austin-based group Grassroots Leadership, which opposes the private prison industry, filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping it.