Judge issues Temporary Restraining Order halting Texas agency’s effort to license family detention center as a childcare facility

May 4, 2016

(AUSTIN, Texas) — A judge in Austin today issued a Temporary Restraining Order preventing the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services from implementing 40 TEX. ADMIN. CODE § 748.7 to issue a childcare license to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas.  The order lasts until next Friday, May 13th, when the court will hear Grassroots Leadership’s application for a Temporary Injunction that would indefinitely halt implementation of a Texas regulation that allows Texas childcare licenses for federal immigrant detention facilities near the cities of Dilley and Karnes City, Texas.  The Dilley facility affected by the Temporary Restraining Order is the largest, and has room for 2,400 occupants.

The order responded to a suit filed by Grassroots Leadership to halt childcare licensing of controversial immigrant family detention centers in South Texas. 

“Today, we are glad a judge has agreed to halt, at least temporarily, the appalling practice of labeling family prisons as childcare facilities,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership.  “Family detention camps are prisons. They are not childcare facilities. DFPS has for a decade refused to regulate these facilities because they do not have authority to do so. The Texas agency has never regulated a facility this large.  Yet they came up with a regulation allowing a license in three months.  It was not done to protect children, but to protect the Obama Administration’s family detention program, putting children in harm’s way.”

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.  Today the court blocked licensure of the other facility.

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.  When the agency started issuing licenses, Grassroots Leadership went to court to try to stop them.

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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.