Public outcry over attempts to license immigrant family detention camps in Texas as childcare facilities

October 16, 2015

In letter to state officials, dozens of organizations and individuals urge the state to deny childcare licenses to private prison companies in Karnes and Dilley

(AUSTIN, Texas) — More than 140 organizations and individuals today sent a letter to Texas state officials urging them to deny child care licenses to private prison companies operating two family detention camps in South Texas.

The letter sent to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner John Specia argued that the family detention facilities, by their nature, do not foster child welfare. Additionally, the letter explains that granting childcare licenses under reduced standards would condone neglect and abuse, is unnecessary, and wastes limited state resources to cover federal responsibilities and ensure profits to private prison companies.

The letter was signed by 15 Texas-based organizations, 24 national and regional organizations as well as 102 individual legal, medical, childcare experts and academics.

“The idea of granting a childcare license to the family detention camps is outrageous, and the state denied Texans a chance to comment on an issue that is important to so many people,” said Cristina Parker, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based nonprofit that has sued the state for using emergency rulemaking to rush the process. “Texas used emergency rules not to protect children, but to protect the federal government in the face of condemnation of these facilities by courts and the public. The childcare emergency at Karnes and Dilley is that children and their mothers are imprisoned in the first place.”

The letter reads in part:

Recent rule-making by DFPS that allows for licensing of family immigration detention centers is fundamentally at odds with the agency’s mission of ensuring safe and healthy childcare services as part of its overall mandate to protect children from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. The rulemaking puts DFPS in the position of potentially licensing detention centers, which are not established to care for or provide services to children for their welfare but rather are designed to hold children in secure custody in order to execute federal immigration law enforcement purposes. … Numerous independent individuals and organizations have documented the fact that children at the Karnes and Dilley detention centers are exposed to conditions that in any other setting child care professionals would deem at best neglectful and at worst abusive.

"There is simply no way to license a facility that is in the business of jailing mothers and young children,” said Jonathan Ryan executive director of RAICES. “We know too well that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has shown no concern for child welfare in either of these facilities. A license from the agency would simply be our state bowing to pressure from the federal government and an endorsement of a shameful practice happening in our backyard.  The best way to protect these children is to not detain them at all.”

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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works to end prison profiteering and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention through direct action, organizing, research, and public education.



Cristina Parker,, 512-499-811