Child Careless

March 10, 2016
Texas Observer

Licensing detention centers as child care facilities in order to circumvent rules banning the government from locking up kids and babies in cells.

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It’s an idea so dystopian you’d have a hard time stomaching it in a science fiction novel, so naturally Texas is doing it. Governor Greg Abbott has even said that licensing these places as child care centers will protect “the health and safety” of the kids.

If that sounds like a hilariously bad justification built on flimsy reasoning and subterfuge, it’s because… it is. What licensing prisons as child care centers does, in reality, is give the federal government’s immigration apparatus the legal permission it needs to keep children detained.

Why else would state officials try to quietly create special prison child care licenses by sidestepping the normal administrative process, without holding any public hearings, as they did in 2015?

Thanks to the efforts of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit working to end immigrant detention, a judge blocked the state’s underhanded attempt at incarcerating kids. When the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services was forced to put its decision up for public scrutiny, Abbott was just about the only guy who thought it sounded like a swell idea.

Dozens of legal experts, advocates and immigrants voiced their opposition to these child care licenses at meeting after meeting. And all for nothing, it seems.

If Texas doesn’t license these detention centers as child care facilities, it could be forced to shut them down entirely, something immigration advocates have long been calling on the Obama administration to do.

The alternative is, I guess, unfathomable to people who see scared kids — not coincidentally, kids of color — as threats to civil society. Who knows what these children might do if they’re allowed to wait out the asylum process in broad daylight. Play on a swing set? Build a sand castle? Set up — the horror — a lemonade stand?

One day, I hope we’ll look back at the way we treated these vulnerable families and be ashamed. We’ll be unable to fathom a society that put the concepts of “child care” and “detention centers” in the same sentence. That day can’t come soon enough.