child care licensing

May 10, 2017
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teleSUR

Texas Senate Passes 'Baby Jail' Bill Backed by Prison Company

Senate Bill 1018 was advanced with a wide margin of 20-11 votes along party lines, with all the Senate Republicans voting in favor.

The Texas Senate on Tuesday passed a new bill written by the GEO group, the second-largest private prison company in the U.S., that legitimizes the existence of immigrant family detention centers as child care facilities.

The bill’s passage comes amid a slew of anti-immigrant ordinances passed by state lawmakers.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a group that opposes mass incarceration told the Texas Observer, “It’s outrageous that the Texas Senate just passed a bill bought and paid for by private prison corporations whose sole purpose is to detain immigrant children for longer."

Senate Bill 1018 was advanced with a wide margin of 20-11 votes along party lines, with all the Senate Republicans voting in favor. Three out of four people who approved the bill were GEO members, according to America's Voice, a grassroots nonprofit organization.

The federal government uses these sub-standard family detention centers to hold women and children seeking asylum, and who are often fleeing violence in Central America. According to the federal court rulings, the centers can hold children for few weeks but the new bill would allow the detention centers to hold women and children for the duration of their asylum cases. Read more about Texas Senate Passes 'Baby Jail' Bill Backed by Prison Company

May 10, 2017
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The San Antonio Current

Will Texas Lawmakers License "Baby Jails" For Asylum-Seeking Families?

This week, Texas lawmakers advanced a bill crafted by for-profit prison interests that would license lockups for asylum-seeking immigrant families as child care providers.

Senate Bill 1018, which would lower state standards for two South Texas immigrant detention centers so they can qualify as Texas-approved "family residential centers," passed its first hurdle in the Texas Senate on Tuesday with a 20-11 vote along party lines. Immigrant rights advocates opposed to it say it's just the state's latest attempt to help keep the family lockups open as federal court orders threaten to shutter them. Democratic lawmakers fighting the bill say it would license "baby jails." 

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The feds' last foray into family detention was at the infamous T. Don Hutto detention center in central Texas that was run by CCA. There, immigration lawyers and human rights activists complained of children dressed in prison-like jumpsuits and kept in small cells for 14 hours a day. A legal challenge by the ACLU ultimately forced the feds to pull children out of Hutto in 2009, citing a longstanding legal settlement that was supposed to bar the feds from ever again holding immigrant kids in a prison-like environment. 

Which is why lawyers challenged the practice of holding kids at Dilley and Karnes, sometimes for months. A year after they opened, a federal judge in California delivered a pair of court rulings that unambiguously condemned the practice of child detention, writing that the government hadn't provided "any competent evidence" to support its argument for jailing asylum-seeking families as a default measure. As part of her ruling, the judge said the feds couldn’t hold kids in facilities that aren’t licensed to house or care for children.

Advocacy groups like Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, which has criticized the conditions immigrants are housed in at Dilley and Karnes, thought the courts were on the verge of forcing an end to family detention. After all, when dealing with complaints over facilities like Hutto, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services had previously insisted it had no oversight role over private prison-run immigrant detention centers that house children in Texas and couldn't license them or hold them to a higher standard. 

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Grassroots had to sue to force Texas child welfare officials to even hold apublic hearing on the matter, which did not go particularly well for the agency. Child welfare experts, immigrant rights advocates, former immigrant detainees and even a woman born behind barbed wire in a Japanese internment camp condemned the practice of family detention and insisted state licensing would only enable a practice that's destructive to healthy child development. Mothers spoke of being separated from their children for extended periods of time and inadequate medical care. Mental health experts who'd visited the facilities spoke of children losing weight, shedding hair and exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and depression in lockup. Social workers claimed they'd been reprimanded by private prison staff for trying to help suffering mothers or children navigate the facility's grievance process. 

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Then last December, a Travis County judge blocked DFPS from licensing the child lockups, ruling that the state can't arbitrarily lower its standards in order to cover a couple of private prison facilities. 

So lobbyists with the GEO Group, which operates the Karnes detention center, decided to try another route. As the Associated Press reported last month, the company helped draft the proposal now snaking through the Texas Legislature that would give DFPS the authority to license the detention centers. Its supporters argue it's a way to ensure families aren't separated in detention; Democrats arguing against the measure in the Senate Tuesday called it a "vendor bill." 

If the bill passes a third reading in the Senate, it moves on to the state House. Still, it's unclear whether lawmakers will have enough time to send the measure to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk before the fast-approaching end of the session on May 29.

But to Grassroots executive director Bob Libal, whose group sued the state over the licensing issue, the episode constitutes just another state attempt to help private prison corporations keep alive the controversial practice of family detention.

"The push to license the family jails has never been about protecting children, but about protecting the profits of private prison companies," Libal said in a prepared statement last month. "The state should stand up to these interests and for the rights of children and reject these unjust bills." Read more about Will Texas Lawmakers License "Baby Jails" For Asylum-Seeking Families?

Apr 26, 2017
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The Texas Observer

Bill to License 'Baby Jails' as Child Care Facilities Clears First Legislative Hurdle

The private prison companies that run detention centers for immigrant kids and their mothers have a problem: They can’t legally hold families for an extended period in Texas unless they are licensed as child care facilities. The Texas Legislature has a solution, though. On Wednesday, a Senate committee advanced legislation that would simply lower the state standards for family detention centers. The prison firms could skip all the burdensome regulations that other child care facilities must deal with.

“The point of the bill is to slap a license on the family detention center without substantially changing their operation,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an immigrant rights group. “It’s an attempt to maintain and expand the system of for-profit family detention.”

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Senate Bill 1018 would effectively lower state standards for family detention centers in order to license them as child care facilities. For example, the bill would allow DFPS to permit minors to share a room with unrelated adults, as sometimes happens in immigrant detention.

Due to federal court rulings, family detention centers can currently only hold children for a few weeks at a time, but the legislation would allow the centers to detain mothers and children for the duration of their legal cases, which can take months or even longer.

The Associated Press reported last week that SB 1018 was written by a lobbyist for the GEO Group, a prison company that runs the 830-bed Karnes County Residential Center. The facility brings in $55 million per year for the company from the federal government.

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Despite opposition from advocates, formerly detained families and Democratic lawmakers, the bill will now move to the full Senate. Read more about Bill to License 'Baby Jails' as Child Care Facilities Clears First Legislative Hurdle

Mar 30, 2017
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The Huffington Post

Texas Republicans Hope To Give Child Care Licenses To Family Detention Centers

Republican state senators took a first step toward licensing two controversial family detention centers as child care facilities on Wednesday, selling the possible change as a way to keep the Trump administration from splitting up immigrant mothers and children at the border.  

At a hearing of the Texas Senate’s Veterans Affairs and Border Security Committee, Republicans said a bill relaxing standards for child care licenses would help the family detention centers skirt problems posed by ongoing lawsuits.

But critics ― including legal groups, members of the Catholic Church and immigrant rights advocates ― described family detention centers as little more than “baby jails.” Citing the fact that most of the mothers and children in detention are Central Americans fleeing violence who apply for asylum, they say there’s no need for family detention centers at all.

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The Obama administration hastily expanded the all-but-abandoned family detention policy back in 2014, as tens of thousands of Central American migrants crossed into the United States. Two family immigrant detention centers, both run by private prison contractors, currently operate in Texas. But the policy of detaining mothers with their children for extended periods has prompted lawsuits.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled in 2015 that locking up immigrant children with their mothers violated the Flores settlement, which requires children to be detained in non-secure facilities and generally favors their release. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services issued emergency rules that year to reclassify the state’s detention centers as “child care” facilities under state law to help them comply with the ruling.

But in a case brought by former detainees and the activist group Grassroots Leadership, a state judge later ruled that family detention centers simply don’t fit the definition of a child care facility under Texas law.

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And authorities wouldn’t actually have to separate mothers and children at the border if the family detention centers became adult facilities. Nothing in immigration law requires them to be detained at all.

In practice, many of the undocumented women and children apprehended by authorities never see the inside of a detention center after crossing into the United States. Instead, they receive a notice to appear in immigration court and fight their cases from outside detention. Most of them petition for asylum or some other permission to stay in the United States for humanitarian reasons. Read more about Texas Republicans Hope To Give Child Care Licenses To Family Detention Centers

Mar 30, 2017
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Rewire

Texas GOP: Treat Detention Centers as Child-Care Facilities

Republican-backed legislation introduced in the Texas legislature would enable the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to license two family detention centers as child-care facilities, while allowing the department to exempt these facilities from state rules.

Family detention is the policy of jailing asylum-seeking immigrant mothers with their children, including babies. The family detention centers in question are the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City. The bills would strike down a law that prevents DFPS from issuing child-care licenses, essentially allowing prison-like detention centers to operate as child-care facilities with reduced standards. For example, multiple families could be detained in one room, which isn’t allowed in child-care facilities outside of immigration detention.

Advocates assert that the GOP effort to allow DFPS to license these facilities has nothing to do with concern for children or providing oversight to the detention centers. Rather, it is to make sure the deadly private prison companies that run these family detention centers—the GEO Group and CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America—continue reaping profits.

Bob Libal, executive director of the Austin-based human rights organization Grassroots Leadership, said it’s also about acting in the best interest of the federal government.

“The stated reason from DFPS for pushing for these licenses is so they can regulate the facilities and do inspections, but that’s not the truth. It’s really about slapping licenses on these facilities, while also not making them come up to licensing standards,” Libal said. “This is all very political. This is happening because [DFPS] wanted to help the federal government detain children and families. This is not in the interest of children; it’s about upholding the Flores legislation.”

In 1997, the settlement agreement in Flores v. Lynch confirmed that children arriving to the United States with their mothers should not be held in unlicensed secure detention centers. Rather than closing these family detention centers, DFPS and the state of Texas has pushed to have them licensed. Despite not being licensed, these facilities continue to operate in violation of federal law.

People who had been held in family detention, as well as immigration and child-welfare advocates, spoke out at a Wednesday hearing in opposition to the proposed bills.

What’s perhaps most troubling about the bills, Libal said, is that they give the DFPS commissioner the ability to change standards or reduce them further.

“There’s a reason why people from the American Academy of Pediatrics and similar groups, that usually don’t work around immigration, are speaking out: Because this is bad for children,” Libal said. “If you read the bill, it says that the commissioner would have this power in part, for the operation of the facility. This means they can change the standards on the books in order for private prison companies to operate these facilities however they want to. This isn’t a regulation regime that improves standards; it allows for current operations to exist as private prison corporations design them.”

The practice of family detention has been deemed inhumane and is known to be detrimental to the health and well-being of children, but the family detention system will only grow under President Trump. The new administration is following in the footsteps of President Obama, targeting Central American asylum seekers and expanding immigrant detention. Just three months into Trump’s presidency, the private prison industry is booming, with companies like GEO and CoreCivic, known for human rights abuses andin-custody deaths, standing to benefit further.

Libal said that despite public opposition to the bills, GOP lawmakers seem in favor of moving them forward.

“There’s no telling what will happen in the Texas legislature, but we’ll just keep speaking out,” Libal said. “I have a lot of concerns for the future of family detention. These licenses are just a way to avoid the implications of federal litigation that have to do with standards that should be used when caring for children. This is an immigration issue, but it’s also a children’s rights issue. These bills are absolutely the wrong way to go forward.” Read more about Texas GOP: Treat Detention Centers as Child-Care Facilities

Dec 6, 2016
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Hoy Dallas

Piden apoyo para albergar a mujeres y niños que ICE dejó libre en el sur de Texas

DALLAS -- Más de 450 mujeres y niños centroamericanos recluidos en dos centros de detención del sur de Texas fueron liberados por ICE durante el fin de semana, informó el grupo RAICES.

El Centro para la Educación y los Servicios Legales del Inmigrante y Refugiado (RAICES, por sus siglas en ingles) dijo que las mujeres y los niños dejados en libertad formaban parte de quienes se encuentran recluidos en los centro de detención en Karnes City y Dilley, cerca de San Antonio.

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Karin Crump, juez de la Corte del Distrito 250, invalidó la regulación del estado de Texas, que había permitido dicha licencia a los Centros de Detención de Karnes y Dilley.

La decisión de la juez se produjo tras una demanda que presentó la organización “Grassroots Leadership” que se opone a que las familias migrantes sean encarceladas. 

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Las mujeres salieron con un documento que les permite permanecer en Estados Unidos en lo que reciben cita con un juez de inmigración. Una gran cantidad de los liberados tienen familias en diferentes estados del país y podrán acercarse a ellos, dijo Fisher.

La Oficina de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE) no informó de la liberación llevada a cabo en los dos centros de detención que son operados por la compañía "Corrections Corp. Of America" (CCA), la administradora de penitenciarias más grande del país.

ICE originalmente solicitó que se otorgaran licencias de guardería a ambos centros de detención después de que un juez en California dictaminó que los centros Karnes y Dilley estaban violando un acuerdo judicial que rige el tratamiento de los niños migrantes. Read more about Piden apoyo para albergar a mujeres y niños que ICE dejó libre en el sur de Texas

Dec 8, 2016
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Fort Worth Weekly

No Family Left Behind

Family detention facilities are not childcare centers. That was the decision handed down on Friday by State District Judge Karin Crump in a case brought by an anti-private prison group against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, as well as two private prison giants: GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly, the Corrections Corporation of America).

The lawsuit by Grassroots Leadership sought to deny childcare licenses to GEO’s Karnes Family Residential Center and CoreCivic’s South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. Both Karnes and Dilley had sought the licenses after a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee in July, 2015, that holding asylum-seeking women and their children in detention centers violated a 1997 ruling that required federal authorities to detain children in the least restrictive settings possible.

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The Dilley facility had never been granted a license; a third family detention center in Pennsylvania was granted a childcare license that has since been revoked. The Crump ruling invalidates the Karnes license.

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Immediately following the ruling, 460 women and children from Karnes and Dilley were released and sent by bus to the RAICES center in San Antonio. A press release from ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security which contracts out the family detention centers, said that the release was a normal part of operations and not done as a result of Crump’s ruling.

“They can say what they want, but nobody knew about the release ahead of time,” said Dr. Luis Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the people who testified in the case for Grassroots Leadership. “They just put these people on busses and sent them out to RAICES with no real warning.”

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Unfortunately, despite the release of that many asylum seekers over the weekend, the Dilley facility is still holding 1,787 women and children, Karnes is still holding 606, and the Berks facility in Pennsylvania, a very small facility that holds a maximum of 100, is still holding 86, according to ICE spokesman Carl Rosnok.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, acknowledged that while the Crump ruling makes it clear that the family detention centers are operating illegally, “this will not close down these facilities immediately, but it is a victory for all of us who have been saying that adult prisons are not childcare facilities. And the ruling reiterates that these places are not only immoral, but they’re illegal as well.”

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Libal believes that “when you meet these folks, you instantly realize these are not national security threats. These are moms and kids fleeing horrible violence, and we throw them into detention, sometimes for months, and then still try to deport them. Back to what? More horrible violence? If anything, this decision should be an indication that President Obama should end these family detention centers once and for all.” Read more about No Family Left Behind

Dec 6, 2016
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Texas Tribune

Immigration detention centers will continue operating despite judge's ruling

Two privately run immigration detention centers in Texas will continue their normal operations despite a Travis County judge’s ruling last week that prevents the state from licensing the facilities as child care centers.

Late Friday, state District Judge Karin Crump ruled that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services could not issue the licenses, which are needed to comply with a federal judge’s order issued last year. The centers are in Dilley and Karnes City and are operated by Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group, respectively.

The companies are under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run the centers holding some of the tens of thousands of Central American women and children that have illegally crossed into Texas since 2014. The centers have been criticized by rights groups for allegedly operating more like prisons. 

The Texas DFPS granted the GEO Group a license for its facility earlier this year. In a statement, a spokesperson said the company always adheres to current standards. 

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But the ruling would invalidate the company's license, said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an immigrants rights group that filed the lawsuit.

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The licensing has been a critical step since July 2015 when U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ordered that immigrants held in Texas and elsewhere should be released because their detention violates the provisions of a 1997 legal settlement — the Flores v. Meese agreement — that requires undocumented juveniles be held in centers that protect their overall health and safety. The licenses would provide for more oversight of the facilities, state officials said last year when they began the process.

Libal said he didn’t expect the facilities to clear out immediately after the ruling and expected an appeal. But he said the ruling will affect how the government and the companies move forward.

“The Flores settlement says that unlicensed and secure detention centers cannot detain children. I think that these facilities would be operating outside of that,” he said. “I know that’s a question for federal courts, but I’m happy that the court has reiterated what we’ve been saying and what’s basically common sense — that a prison is not a child care facility.” Read more about Immigration detention centers will continue operating despite judge's ruling

Dec 6, 2016
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Texas Observor

More Than 500 Central American Families Freed from Detention after Court Ruling

An immigrant shelter and a Mennonite church in San Antonio are hosting hundreds of Central American women and children released unexpectedly over the weekend from two detention centers in South Texas.

Volunteers are scrambling to house all the families, who now need to secure bus and airplane tickets so they can reunite with relatives in the United States. Some advocates suspect the mass release of immigrants is due to a court ruling last Friday that prohibits Texas from licensing immigration jails as child care facilities.

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Despite comments from RAICES saying the releases over the weekend are unprecedented, ICE said in a prepared statement that it was “scheduled as part of normal operations and not in response to the court ruling.”

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“For whatever reason, the releases are a good thing,” said Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group that was a plaintiff in the lawsuit settled last Friday. Grassroots Leadership, along with detained Central American women and children, sued the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) after it granted a child care license to private prison corporation Geo Group to fill the detention center in Karnes with women and children from Central America who were seeking asylum.

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Libal said the state of Texas rubber-stamped the immigrant jails to placate the federal government, allowing for substandard child care regulations such as housing eight unrelated people in the same room.

But after last Friday’s court ruling, the state can no longer provide the certification, which means the two family immigrant detention facilities are out of compliance with federal law. Libal said he and many others would like to see the child detention facilities close for good. But it’s still unclear whether there’s any penalty for being out of compliance, or whether ICE will stop detaining children anytime soon.

The state is already appealing Friday’s ruling, Libal said. “The Obama administration shouldn’t be turning over detention camps to Donald Trump,” he said. Read more about More Than 500 Central American Families Freed from Detention after Court Ruling

Dec 5, 2016
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ABC News

Texas Appeals Ruling That Bans License for Detention Centers

The Texas attorney general on Monday appealed a judge's ruling that prevents state officials from issuing child care licenses to two federal detention centers in South Texas holding families that have illegally entered the U.S.

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State District Judge Karin Crump on Friday ruled the department cannot issue the licenses. Crump's ruling did not offer an explanation for her decision, but she had previously issued an injunction against the licenses from being issued, determining at one point that the state agency had improperly fast-tracked changes to create a path for the facilities to get licensed.

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The lawsuit that brought Crump's ruling was filed by Austin-based activist group Grassroots Leadership, which contends the facilities are prisons that are inappropriate for family detention and that minimum standards have been lowered to license them. The group's director, Bob Libal, said Monday that it's part of broader legal efforts to have federal officials adhere to a longtime agreement that called for children and their families to be held only for a short time before being released to family, friends or others while their cases are decided.

"Evidence is continuing to mount that not only is the detention immoral but it's also illegal," Libal said. Read more about Texas Appeals Ruling That Bans License for Detention Centers

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