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


Related Posts

Apr 29, 2016
The Austin Chronicle

"Every Human Being Is Legal"

When Immigration and Customs Enforce­ment (ICE) announced at the beginning of this year that it would be intensifying its efforts to deport certain undocumented immigrants, Hilda Ramirez decided it was time to seek sanctuary.


Ramirez, who fled Guatemala in fear of her life, has been denied asylum. Her appeal of the initial denial was also rejected. Yet there is still hope that Ivan, who is now 10, will be granted asylum on appeal, explained Alejandro Caceres, immigration organizer at Grassroots Leadership and coordinator of the ICE Out of Austin campaign. Additionally, Ramirez's attorney plans to file for a stay of removal, which would prevent the Department of Homeland Security from carrying out an order of deportation. Through "prosecutorial discretion," ICE has the authority to suspend deportation cases that are not priorities, such as immigrants who do not pose threats to national security, border security, and public safety. "We want Immigration to use the power they have to withhold Hilda's deportation because, clearly, she is not a priority," said Caceres. Read more about "Every Human Being Is Legal"

Outcry against licensing family detention in Texas continues in Karnes County hearing

WHAT: Public hearing on the local impacts of licensing immigrant family lockups
WHO: Karnes residents, including messages from women detained there, will join immigrant and child rights advocates
WHEN:   Wednesday, April 13 from 1-5 p.m.
WHERE: GEO Group-operated Karnes County Correctional Center, 810 Commerce St, Karnes City, Texas 78118 Read more about Outcry against licensing family detention in Texas continues in Karnes County hearing

Mar 25, 2016
Austin American-Statesman

Grupos piden apoyo para guatemalteca refugiada en iglesia de Austin

A ritmo de guitarra, Jim Rigby, el ministro de la iglesia presbiteriana Saint Andrew’s, animaba a cerca de medio centenar de activistas pro inmigrantes que se concentraron el jueves 24 frente al ayuntamiento de Austin para exigir apoyo para evitar la deportación de una inmigrante guatemalteca indocumentada y su hijo, quienes se refugiaron en el templo a inicios del mes pasado.


Read more about Grupos piden apoyo para guatemalteca refugiada en iglesia de Austin

Mar 18, 2016
Texas Observer

An End to Family Detention? Immigration Groups are Wary

A top immigration official told D.C. lawmakers Thursday that the Karnes Family Residential Center — one of two immigrant detention centers in Texas that houses immigrant women and their children — will be converted to an all-male facility, possibly with kids.

In response to a question from U.S. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-California, about whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would stop locking up migrant families fleeing persecution in their home countries, the Guardian reported that ICE Director Sarah Saldaña said:

“Well, we’re pretty much there on the decision on Karnes,” Saldaña said. “We are probably going to convert that into — our plans are to convert that into — an adult male, perhaps with children, facility. Not a family facility as it is now, with largely women.”

Texas immigrant rights advocates, though, aren’t celebrating just yet. Saldaña’s statement isn’t definitive, they said, and came with very little other information, such as the process and timeline of the conversion.

“We’re just trying to figure out, what does this mean, right?” Cristina Parker, immigration programs director with the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, told the Observer Friday morning. “It seems strange to me that they would convert it to an all-male facility. And I don’t know what ‘perhaps with children’ means,” she said. Read more about An End to Family Detention? Immigration Groups are Wary

Mar 18, 2016
The Guardian

Controversial Texas family detention center to change back to all-male facility

A controversial family detention center in Texas will be converted back to an adult male facility, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Thursday in the latest signal that the Obama administration will reduce the detention of women and children before the president’s time in office ends.

During a House appropriations committee hearing Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard asked the ICE director, Sarah Saldaña: “is it possible that ICE will stop using Karnes and Dilley [another facility] for families in [fiscal year 2017]?”

“Well, we’re pretty much there on the decision on Karnes,” Saldaña responded. “We are probably going to convert that into – our plans are to convert that into – an adult male, perhaps with children, facility. Not a family facility as it is now, with largely women.”


Saldaña’s announcement comes as Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 cut his request for funding for family detention to 960 beds, about half the 1,800 requested the year before.

The reduction is a positive step, but it’s not enough, said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, which opposes private prisons.

“The question for the administration is will it go far enough for family detention not to be one of their legacy issues?” Libal asked. “Or will Obama go down as creating the largest trend in detaining families since Japanese internment?” Read more about Controversial Texas family detention center to change back to all-male facility

Mar 16, 2016
The San Antonio Express News

Shortened detention stays put immigration officials in bind

As officials shorten the amount of time that families are held at South Texas’ immigration detention centers, methods of providing access to legal representation and education at the facilities are becoming outdated.

Top-ranking immigration officials heard from activists, experts and practitioners about how to improve conditions in the detention facilities during a San Antonio meeting of the Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers on Wednesday. The committee spent Tuesday touring the local detention facilities.

As of Tuesday, there were 449 immigrants held at the family detention center in Karnes County and 468 at the sprawling center in Dilley.


A series of nonprofit workers, immigration attorneys and Catholic nuns told committee members that the facilities in Karnes County and Dilley are tantamount to jails and that improvements won’t fix the problems of holding women and children fleeing violence.

“The only solution for this is to close these places down,” said Alejandro Caceres, a 28-year-old lawful permanent resident from Honduras and an immigration organizer with the group Grassroots Leadership. Read more about Shortened detention stays put immigration officials in bind

Mar 16, 2016
The Austin Chronicle

Child Care Center or Baby Jail?

For more than a year now, immigration rights and child welfare advocates, human rights activists, and attorneys have called on the government to end the practice of holding immigrant women and their children in family detention centers, charging that they're "baby jails" that need to be closed.

However, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) sees things differently. DFPS, which is part of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, last month approved licensing family detention centers as child-care facilities.

"Child-care facilities exist to take care of children," wrote Virginia Raymond, an Austin-based immigration attorney who vocally opposes the move. The state of Texas, which requires most child-care centers to be licensed, also mandates through DFPS the specific minimal standards those centers must meet. Because family detention centers cannot meet those standards, these critical requirements are waived for the sole purpose of licensing these centers, so they can legally remain open. Read more about Child Care Center or Baby Jail?

Mar 8, 2016
Texas Observer

Raid Aid

Drawing about 40 people on a Saturday, the “Know Your Rights” meeting featured attorneys, who provided an overview of the federal immigration raids, and advocates, who shared instructions on what to do should a law enforcement officer show up unannounced. There’s no requirement to respond or let officials inside without a signed warrant, they said.

“Your name and your birthday — that’s all the information you have to give,” Alejandro Caceres, an immigration rights advocate with the Austin nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, told the audience. Caceres, who donned an ICE T-shirt and paper badge to play an officer in an educational skit, assured meeting attendees that if they are inside their homes, they do not have to answer specific questions about immigration status. “You have the right not to say anything. You have the right to an attorney.” Read more about Raid Aid

Mar 10, 2016
Texas Observer

Child Careless

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


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. Read more about Child Careless