More Than 500 Central American Families Freed from Detention after Court Ruling

December 6, 2016
Texas Observor

An immigrant shelter and a Mennonite church in San Antonio are hosting hundreds of Central American women and children released unexpectedly over the weekend from two detention centers in South Texas.

Volunteers are scrambling to house all the families, who now need to secure bus and airplane tickets so they can reunite with relatives in the United States. Some advocates suspect the mass release of immigrants is due to a court ruling last Friday that prohibits Texas from licensing immigration jails as child care facilities.

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Despite comments from RAICES saying the releases over the weekend are unprecedented, ICE said in a prepared statement that it was “scheduled as part of normal operations and not in response to the court ruling.”

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“For whatever reason, the releases are a good thing,” said Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group that was a plaintiff in the lawsuit settled last Friday. Grassroots Leadership, along with detained Central American women and children, sued the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) after it granted a child care license to private prison corporation Geo Group to fill the detention center in Karnes with women and children from Central America who were seeking asylum.

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Libal said the state of Texas rubber-stamped the immigrant jails to placate the federal government, allowing for substandard child care regulations such as housing eight unrelated people in the same room.

But after last Friday’s court ruling, the state can no longer provide the certification, which means the two family immigrant detention facilities are out of compliance with federal law. Libal said he and many others would like to see the child detention facilities close for good. But it’s still unclear whether there’s any penalty for being out of compliance, or whether ICE will stop detaining children anytime soon.

The state is already appealing Friday’s ruling, Libal said. “The Obama administration shouldn’t be turning over detention camps to Donald Trump,” he said.