Hundreds of women and children were released from two family detention centers over the weekend, after a Texas state judge sided with critics who say the facilities more closely resemble jails than child care centers.
The mass releases were a victory for immigrant rights advocates, who argue that it’s unnecessary and inhumane to lock up undocumented mothers and kids seeking asylum in the U.S.
The state lawsuit focused narrowly on emergency rules designed to allow the detention facilities to meet Texas’ child care licensing standards. But the state case arises out of ongoing federal litigation, which has put Immigration and Customs Enforcement on notice that these facilities are not acceptable places to house kids.
“This may not be the end of our legal battles,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, which brought the state lawsuit. “But for now, if these facilities want to apply to operate as child care facilities, they have to do it like any other child care facility ― rather than the state designing a rule that fits prisons.”
The Karnes and Dilley detention centers would need to make significant changes to qualify as child care facilities under previously established Texas law. One problem is that the centers hold multiple families together in a single unit, meaning children have been housed with unrelated adults ― a generally prohibited practice for child care facilities because of the risk of abuse.
Another key issue is that children’s presence at licensed child care facilities is essentially optional and they can leave. By contrast, kids can’t leave the detention centers at Karnes or Dilley unless ICE or an immigration judge releases them.
Despite the ongoing litigation, ICE extended CoreCivic’s contract to run the Dilley detention center in October.