Family Detention

In 2009, Grassroots Leadership ran a successful campaign to end family detention at the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor Texas. When the Obama administration announced that it would stop detaining families at Hutto, only 100 family detention beds remained at a small facility in Pennsylvania. However, after the wave of Central American families and children seeking refuge at our border in the summer of 2014, the administration reversed its decision, opening facilities at Artesia, New Mexico; Karnes, Texas, and Dilley, Texas - all run by private prison corporations. While Artesia closed at the end of last year, the number of family detention beds has skyrocketed and is expected to reach over 3,000 by this May. Grassroots Leadership is once again working to end the inhumane policy of family detention.

Facts About Family Detention

Find out more about what family detention is, what the conditions are like, who opposes it, and more on our regularly-updated resource page: Facts about Family Detention

 

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Dec 17, 2015
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The Austin Chronicle

Speakers Testify Against Detention Facility Relicensing

Public testimony having concluded at the close of business Monday, officials from the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services (DFPS) will now embark on an open-ended deliberation period in which the agency will consider whether to approve two private detention facilities – run by for-profit corporations in cooperation with the Homeland Security's Immigration & Customs Enforcement division – as licensed residential centers for undocumented children.

The proposed relicensing comes in the wake of an eventful half-year that began in July, when California District Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered that migrant children be released from family detention centers. The conditions, she decided, were in violation of an agreement that barred children from being held in unlicensed facilities. DFPS's response was to convert the two facilities, the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, into licensed child-care centers – though the change would be made in name only, not practice. Local advocacy group Grassroots Leadership won a temporary injunction to stop the relicensing in November to allow for public testimony. Read more about Speakers Testify Against Detention Facility Relicensing

Dec 16, 2015
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Free Speech Radio News

Ten years after launch of Operation Streamline, criminal immigration charges dominate federal caseloads

Today marks the 10 years since Operation Streamline took effect. The policy significantly increased the caseloads in criminal courts along the southern U.S. border by criminalizing what used to be a civil offense:  illegal re-entry into the United States. Operation Streamline started as a pilot program in the Del Rio sector of the Texas border, but later expanded to Yuma, Arizona; Laredo, Texas and eventually to all southern border sectors except those in California. To take a look at what the net effects of the policy have been a decade later, FSRN’s Shannon Young spoke with Bethany Carson, immigration policy researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership in Austin, Texas. Read more about Ten years after launch of Operation Streamline, criminal immigration charges dominate federal caseloads

Dec 11, 2015
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RH Reality Check

Advocates: Don’t License Texas Detention Centers as Child-Care Facilities

Dozens of immigrant rights organizers, child welfare advocates, academic researchers, and immigrant families released from detention centers gathered at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) headquarters on Wednesday for a public hearing regarding a proposed rule to license the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City and the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley as child-care facilities. Both family detention centers have documented histories of human rights abuses, including the abuse of children.

In November, the Texas-based organization Grassroots Leadership won a temporary injunction in its suit to stop DFPS from licensing the family detention centers as child-care facilities under an emergency rule, which would have eliminated the minimum child safety standards applicable to all child-care facilities in the state.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, which works to end for-profit incarceration and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention, told RH Reality Check that Wednesday’s hearing was a direct result of the injunction that forced DFPS to hear the public’s concerns around using these prisons as child-care facilities.

“Dozens and dozens of people came to testify,” Libal said. “All of them were against licensing these facilities as child-care centers. We had a diverse group of advocates and people with lived experience of being in these facilities and working in these facilities and all of them testified that family prison should never be a child-care facility.” Read more about Advocates: Don’t License Texas Detention Centers as Child-Care Facilities

Dec 10, 2015
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Texas Observer

Experts, Activists Challenge Detention Child Care Licenses

Dozens of activists gathered for a public hearing and press conference in Austin on Wednesday, hoping to block family detention centers from becoming licensed child care facilities.

One woman, who was held in a South Texas detention center for 11 months, told reporters that she and her son fled their home country of Guatemala in 2014, hoping to secure asylum in the United States. Upon their arrival, Hilda — who asked that their last name not be used — and 9-year-old Ivan were placed in the Karnes County Residential Center, one of the two federal family detention centers currently housing an estimated 2,000 migrant women and children in Texas.

During their internment at Karnes, Hilda said, her son did not get proper medical care when he was sick, and Hilda watched as other children grew thin and often fainted, because of the poor quality of the food. She described a sterile, prison-like environment, where guards would only bring out toys and blankets for children when federal officials would visit the facility.

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In September, DFPS began trying to keep the detention facilities open to house women and children by creating a new child care licensing category for family detention centers. But Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that has fought for the closure of family detention centers since 2006, filed suit against DFPS in order to block the licensure, and a Travis County district court halted the state’s efforts in late November. Instead, ruled Judge Karin Crump, the state would have to complete the normal administrative process required when creating new child care licensing rules and hold a public hearing.

That hearing took place Wednesday over the course of three hours at DFPS headquarters, where activists called the agency’s attempt to secure child care licenses for detention centers a way to “legitimize the detention of children,” which would perpetuate the traumatic and emotional impact of the violence and persecution migrant families experienced in their home countries. Read more about Experts, Activists Challenge Detention Child Care Licenses

Dec 9, 2015
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The San Antonio Express News

Immigrant advocates fight effort to license family detention centers as child-care facilities

AUSTIN - Advocates for immigrants and children are fighting a proposal to allow federal detention centers to be licensed by the state as residential child-care facilities, saying Texas shouldn’t lend legitimacy to the operation. Read more about Immigrant advocates fight effort to license family detention centers as child-care facilities

Dec 10, 2015
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Houston Press

Experts Urge Texas Not to License Immigration Lockups As "Child Care" Centers

Child welfare experts, immigrant rights advocates, former immigrant detainees and even a woman born behind barbed wire in a Japanese internment camp are urging Texas not to license federal immigration lockups as “child care” centers.

Officials with the Texas Department of Family Services heard some three hours of testimony Wednesday from more than 40 witnesses deeply troubled by the agency’s plan to create a whole new child care licensing category for two facilities that primarily detain asylum-seeking women and children. The compounds, built in the tiny, geographically isolated South Texas towns of Karnes and Dilley, are run by the same private prison behemoths that have seen profits soar with the rise in immigration enforcement and detention.

Such “family residential centers,” as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials call them, have come under fire not just by advocates but also by the courts. This summer, a federal judge in California ruled that the family lockups violate a longstanding legal settlement designed to keep the feds from ever again holding immigrant children in prison-like conditions. As the feds scrambled to comply with the judge’s ruling, Texas came in with the assist: state child protection officials would call it an “emergency,” fast-track the process of creating a whole new category for family detention centers and potentially license the facilities without even giving the public opportunity to vet or comment on the plan.

Immigrant rights advocates were appalled that Texas would try to save the distasteful practice of family detention. Child welfare experts, who contend the type of family detention employed by ICE is damaging to child development, were floored by the plan, saying Texas was lowering its child care standards to meet those of ICE.

Late last month, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Austin-based advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, a state district judged ruled no such “emergency” existed and that the state couldn’t bypass the normal process. DFPS was forced to hold a public comment period. Read more about Experts Urge Texas Not to License Immigration Lockups As "Child Care" Centers

New Video of Mother and Son and their Experience in the Karnes Detention Center

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Grassroots Leadership today released video testimony from a mother and son who were held in the Karnes family detention center, one day after the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services heard overwhelming testimony from more than 40 people opposed to granting child care licenses to the family detention centers in South Texas.

The video testimony can be viewed at:

(Press the Closed Caption (CC) button to watch English translations of both Hilda’s and Ivan’s statements) Read more about New Video of Mother and Son and their Experience in the Karnes Detention Center

Press conference to speak against Texas licensing family detention centers as “child care” facilities

WHAT: Press conference immediately before the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services public hearing about child care licenses for  family detention

WHO: Women and children previously detained in family detention in Texas, advocates and community members who are against family detention

WHEN:  Wednesday, December 9th at 9:30 a.m.

WHERE: John H. Winters Building, 701 W. 51st Street, Austin, TX Read more about Press conference to speak against Texas licensing family detention centers as “child care” facilities

Judge prohibits Texas from licensing family detention centers as childcare facilities

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Grassroots Leadership today won a temporary injunction in its suit to stop the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services from licensing family detention centers in Karnes and Dilley as childcare facilities under an emergency rule.  The emergency rule actually eliminated minimum child safety standards applicable to all childcare facilities in Texas.   Read more about Judge prohibits Texas from licensing family detention centers as childcare facilities

Oct 22, 2015
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The Texas Tribune

Lawsuit Aims to Prevent Licensing of Detention Centers

A watchdog group is suing the agency charged with protecting the state’s most vulnerable Texans, alleging the department fast-tracked a policy change that might help the federal government convince a federal judge to reverse her order shutting down two immigration detention centers in Texas.

The lawsuit by Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit group opposed to for-profit prisons, filed in a Travis County state district court, claims that by adopting an emergency rule in September, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services can issue temporary licenses to privately run detention centers in Karnes City and Dilley without publicly detailing how it will ensure the safety and well-being of the immigrants. Read more about Lawsuit Aims to Prevent Licensing of Detention Centers

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