No Family Left Behind

December 8, 2016
Fort Worth Weekly

Family detention facilities are not childcare centers. That was the decision handed down on Friday by State District Judge Karin Crump in a case brought by an anti-private prison group against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, as well as two private prison giants: GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly, the Corrections Corporation of America).

The lawsuit by Grassroots Leadership sought to deny childcare licenses to GEO’s Karnes Family Residential Center and CoreCivic’s South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. Both Karnes and Dilley had sought the licenses after a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee in July, 2015, that holding asylum-seeking women and their children in detention centers violated a 1997 ruling that required federal authorities to detain children in the least restrictive settings possible.

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The Dilley facility had never been granted a license; a third family detention center in Pennsylvania was granted a childcare license that has since been revoked. The Crump ruling invalidates the Karnes license.

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Immediately following the ruling, 460 women and children from Karnes and Dilley were released and sent by bus to the RAICES center in San Antonio. A press release from ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security which contracts out the family detention centers, said that the release was a normal part of operations and not done as a result of Crump’s ruling.

“They can say what they want, but nobody knew about the release ahead of time,” said Dr. Luis Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the people who testified in the case for Grassroots Leadership. “They just put these people on busses and sent them out to RAICES with no real warning.”

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Unfortunately, despite the release of that many asylum seekers over the weekend, the Dilley facility is still holding 1,787 women and children, Karnes is still holding 606, and the Berks facility in Pennsylvania, a very small facility that holds a maximum of 100, is still holding 86, according to ICE spokesman Carl Rosnok.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, acknowledged that while the Crump ruling makes it clear that the family detention centers are operating illegally, “this will not close down these facilities immediately, but it is a victory for all of us who have been saying that adult prisons are not childcare facilities. And the ruling reiterates that these places are not only immoral, but they’re illegal as well.”

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Libal believes that “when you meet these folks, you instantly realize these are not national security threats. These are moms and kids fleeing horrible violence, and we throw them into detention, sometimes for months, and then still try to deport them. Back to what? More horrible violence? If anything, this decision should be an indication that President Obama should end these family detention centers once and for all.”