As Pennsylvania revokes the license from a family detention center, Texas officials still stalling

February 4, 2016

(AUSTIN, Texas) —  Child welfare and immigrant rights advocates gathered ahead of a meeting of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Council this morning to demand that state officials scrap plans to give child care licenses to controversial immigrant family detention camps in the state.

The proposal would lower the state’s child care licensing standards to allow the continued detention of asylum-seeking children and their mothers at two remote for-profit immigration family detention centers in Karnes City and Dilley. The idea has resulted in overwhelming public outcry. An Open Records Request obtained by Grassroots Leadership revealed that Texas DFPS Commissioner Judge John Specia, Jr. and Texas Governor Greg Abbott received more than 5,000 pages worth of comments in opposition to the proposal.

This comes on the heels of a major victory by organizers in the only other state that has  family detention centers. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services issued notice on January 25 that the licensing of the Berks County Family Detention Center (BCRC) would not be renewed and officially revoked, ending family detention in the state.

Reaction from advocates:  

“Grassroots Leadership had to sue to even allow for public comments in this process and the agency has seen overwhelming opposition to licensing these family detention camps as child care facilities from child welfare advocates,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership.  “TDFPS has even admitted in recent news reports that this effort is about justifying immigration enforcement and not about ensuring child welfare.  The agency should listen to child welfare and immigration advocates and actually live up to its mission to protect families.”

“The Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry currently represents 33 congregations and 5000 Unitarian Universalists across our huge state. We affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every human being regardless of national origin.  TXUUJM stands strongly against licensing the for-profit refugee prisons at Karnes City and Dilley as child care facilities.  It's an assault on our neighbors, who came here for help, not incarceration of mothers and their children,” said Rev. Chuck Freeman , Executive Director of Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry

The National Association of Social Workers – Texas Chapter opposes the pending rule change by the Department of Family and Protective Services regarding licensing the Karnes and Dilliey Immigrant Detention Centers under their Child Care Licensing (CCL) unit.  CCL rules signify the regulatory minimum of what has been determined to keep children safe.  Relaxing the rules for room occupancy, children staying in rooms with adults and children staying in rooms with children of the opposite gender may place children at risk by setting the precedent that the living conditions within the facilities take priority over CCL standards.  This will compromise the complaint process for a child in these centers, and inhibits the ability of a child to speak out against specific factors, treatment or living conditions.  A detention center is neither a childcare operation nor a child-placing agency, and no child should be placed in a locked facility unless specifically admitted for a behavioral or mental health reason.  We respectfully ask that DFPS and HHSC reconsider the supposed validity and impact of this rule, and are of the opinion that this  is ultimately less about the best interests of children and more about using CCL in a way that it was never built for,” said Will Francis, LMSW, Government Relations Director for the National Association of Social Workers — Texas Chapter.

“Legitimizing family detention centers with track records like Karnes and Dilley stands contrary to the Department’s own mission to protect children,” said MALDEF Regional Counsel Marisa Bono, who testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about due process violations and abuse allegations in those facilities. “It is shocking that the State seeks to license the detention centers, not because that is what is best for these vulnerable children, but because the state wishes to play the misguided role of immigration enforcer.”

“We demand the immediate release of the families detained not only in Berks but in Texas also. They should not endure one more day in unjust detention.” said Erika Almiron, Executive Director of Juntos, an organization based in Philadelphia.

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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.

Contact: 

Cristina Parker, cparker@grassrootsleadership.org, 512-499-8111