Grassroots Leadership and detained families sue to stop childcare licensing for family prisons in Texas

May 3, 2016

Suit claims Texas Department of Family Services doesn’t have authority to license two family detention camps in South Texas

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Today, Grassroots Leadership and two mothers who are detained in Texas with their children filed papers in state court in Austin seeking a Temporary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order to halt the licensing of controversial family detention centers in South Texas.

The South Texas Family Residential Center, operated by prison corporation Corrections Corporation of America in Dilley, and the Karnes County Residential Center, operated by prison corporation GEO Group in Karnes City, had applied for licenses under lowered standards  adopted under a new regulation, 40 TEX. ADMIN. CODE § 748.7, implemented by the agency on March 1st.  On Friday and without an official announcement, DFPS granted the Karnes detention camp a childcare license based on that regulation.

Grassroots Leadership has asked the 250th Judicial District Court to invalidate those regulations on the ground that DFPS only is granted authority to regulate childcare facilities and not detention centers, prisons, detention camps, or mental health facilities.

“By all reasonable measures, family detention camps are prisons. They are not childcare facilities,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership.  “DFPS has for a decade refused to regulate these facilities because they do not have the authority to do so.  Suddenly the Texas agency changed its mind because the Obama Administration asked it to.  Changing an interpretation of Texas law to help federal immigration officials enforce harsh detention policies is disingenuous and detrimental to the health of children in Texas.”

In November, Grassroots Leadership won a temporary injunction in its suit to stop DFPS from using emergency rulemaking procedures to license family detention centers in Karnes and Dilley as childcare facilities.  The state responded by publishing a new new permanent rule which lowered childcare standards, and then took public comments on whether the state should implement the rule.

Thousands of Texans submitted comments against adoption of the rule and dozens of people — including formerly detained mothers, child advocates, faith leaders, and survivors of Japanese internment — testified against the adoption of the rule at a public hearing.  Dozens of groups ranging from the Texas Pediatric Society to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault filed formal comments opposing the rule.  Nevertheless, the state adopted the rule and began accepting license applications from Karnes and Dilley on March 1st.

“DFPS has publicly stated that this effort is about justifying immigration enforcement and not about ensuring child welfare,” said Cristina Parker, Grassroots Leadership’s Immigration Programs Director. “The agency has plenty of work to do in Texas just living up to its mission to regulate child care facilities and protect families.  It has no business taking on giant new immigration detention facilities holding thousands of children, when no one ever authorized the agency to broaden its regulatory reach this way.”

# # #

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.