Flores settlement

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?

May 26, 2016
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The Austin Chronicle

Fighting Family Detention

In 2014, the Obama administration revived the controversial practice of "family detention": incarcerating undocumented female immigrants along with their children. The families have not been convicted of any crime, but are held while they await immigration proceedings. Austin-based civil-rights organization Grassroots Leadership has been fighting back since then, calling on the government to close the for-profit "baby jails." Read more about Fighting Family Detention

May 4, 2016
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Houston Chronicle

Judge halts agency's effort to license detention center as a child-care facility

AUSTIN - The state's decision to grant a childcare license to a detention facility in Karnes City has prompted a legal battle between the state and a nonprofit grass-roots organization that won a temporary restraining order Wednesday, halting licensing until a court appearance next week.

The temporary restraining order was issued by state District Judge Karen Crump.

Last week, the Department of Family Planning Services issued a temporary child-care license to the Karnes County Residential Center, run by a private prison company. In response, the Austin-based Grassroots Leadership and two mothers detained in the facility with their children filed a lawsuit requesting a temporary injunction and temporary restraining order. Read more about Judge halts agency's effort to license detention center as a child-care facility

May 4, 2016
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Austin American-Statesman

Judge issues restraining order in family detention center case

A state district judge in Travis County has issued a temporary retraining order against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, preventing the agency from issuing a childcare license to one of two controversial family detention centers in South Texas.

Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based nonprofit that opposes private prison companies, and two detainee mothers on Tuesday asked Judge Karin Crump to invalidate new regulations that went into effect in February and allow the state to issue childcare licenses to the facilities. The state family services department, the plaintiffs say, never had the authority to rewrite the rules and give itself the power to regulate the centers.

Crump on Wednesday agreed to issue the restraining order until May 13, when the court will take up the plaintiffs’ request on the new regulations.

“This is a very good sign that the judge has recognized that we must, at least temporarily, halt the appalling practice of calling family prisons childcare centers,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership. Read more about Judge issues restraining order in family detention center case

May 4, 2016
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ABC News

Judge Blocks Child-Care License for Family Detention Center

A judge has blocked a temporary residential child-care license for one of the nation's largest detention centers for families caught crossing the southern U.S. border illegally.

The licenses are needed because a federal judge ruled last year the centers would have to eventually release the immigrant children without them.

State District Judge Karin Crump signed a temporary restraining order Wednesday that blocks issuance of a license to the privately owned and managed, 2,400-bed South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas.

The order was sought by an activist group that opposes for-profit prisons. It is effective until May 13, when arguments are scheduled on a temporary injunction to halt the licensing indefinitely. Read more about Judge Blocks Child-Care License for Family Detention Center

May 3, 2016
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Telemundo

Estado da licencias de guardería a centro de detención, activistas entablan demanda

El Departamento de Familia y Servicios de Protección de Texas decidió licenciar por seis meses al centro de Karnes como guardería, al cabo del plazo, habrá inspecciones y el centro podrá obtener la licencia permanente.

Pero la organización pro-inmigrante Grassroots Leadership entabló acción legal el martes, pidiéndole a una corte del Condado Travis una restricción temporal de esta práctica.

"Los centros de detención familiares son prisiones", dijo Bob Libal, Director Ejecutivo de Grassroots Leadership. Read more about Estado da licencias de guardería a centro de detención, activistas entablan demanda

May 3, 2016
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The Texas Tribune

State Sued for Licensing Detention Center

A nonprofit organization has sued the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services for issuing a temporary child-care license to an immigration detention facility in Karnes City.

Grassroots Leadership, which opposes for-profit prisons, says the department has no authority to regulate detention centers or prisons and is asking Travis County District Court for a temporary injunction and restraining order to stop the licensing. 

"We think both that it is inappropriate and wrong for the state agency to license prisons as childcare facilities," said Bob Libal, executive director of the organization. "They're saying these are child facilities now, after more than a decade of saying that there weren't child care facilities in the detention centers, essentially to help the federal government avoid a lawsuit and to help the federal government enforce harsh immigration policies against children and their moms." Read more about State Sued for Licensing Detention Center

May 2, 2016
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Texas Observer

Texas Licenses Detention Center for Child Care, Despite Deficiencies

Texas has granted a temporary residential child care license to a controversial immigrant detention center, despite “deficiencies” uncovered in a recent inspection.

The initial license took effect Friday, April 29, said Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) spokesperson Patrick Crimmins.

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“It is deeply disappointing, but not surprising, that the state of Texas has put a rubber stamp on family detention at Karnes,” said Cristina Parker, immigration project coordinator at the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, in an emailed statement to the Observer. “Today, our state took this step not to protect children, but to protect the federal government from [the federal] order.” Read more about Texas Licenses Detention Center for Child Care, Despite Deficiencies

Feb 29, 2016
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Reading Eagle

Texas immigration facilities also seeking licenses to house children

The Berks County Residential Center is not the only family detention center looking for licensing.

The country's only other family detention facilities, which are in Texas, are also working to get certification to hold children.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission recently announced that it will open a licensing pathway for the South Texas Family Residential Center and the Karnes County Residential Center to obtain licenses that allow them to hold families beginning Tuesday.

The move to license the facilities began in September when the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services submitted a proposed emergency rule to the commission to create a new child care licensing category for family detention centers.

That proposal was soon met with an outcry from Grassroots Leadership, a group leading the charge against the centers in Texas.

"We won a temporary injunction because the court recognized there was no emergency other than (U.S. District Judge Dolly M.) Gee's order," said Cristina Parker, Grassroots Leadership's immigration programs director. Read more about Texas immigration facilities also seeking licenses to house children

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