Flores settlement

Feb 16, 2016
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RH Reality Check

For-Profit Texas Prisons Could Reduce Standards for Holding Children

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission approved a proposed rule Friday to reduce child-care standards, permitting two for-profit detention centers detaining hundreds of children in the state to move forward with the licensing process.

Grassroots Leadership, the Texas-based organization that won a temporary injunction in November in its suit to stop the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) from licensing Karnes County Residential Center and Dilley’s South Texas Family Residential Center as child-care facilities under an emergency rule, said in a press release that Friday’s ruling could set a dangerous precedent.

The emergency rule would have eliminated minimum child safety standards applicable to all child-care facilities in Texas. Because Grassroots Leadership received the temporary injunction, Karnes and Dilley were forced to go through the traditional licensing procedure, which enabled immigrant rights organizers, child welfare advocates, academic researchers, and immigrant families released from detention centers to attend December’s public hearing at DFPS and comment on the proposal to license the family detention centers as child-care facilities.

An open records request obtained by Grassroots Leadership found that DFPS received more than 5,000 pages filled with comments, letters, emails, and testimony that were “overwhelmingly against” adopting the proposed rule. Read more about For-Profit Texas Prisons Could Reduce Standards for Holding Children

Feb 16, 2016
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Houston Public Media

Texas Will Allow Immigrant Detention Centers Apply For A License To Remain Open

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, DFPS, announced last Friday it will allow two facilities that house undocumented families, including minors, to obtain a license to remain open.

Most of the detainees at these facilities –located in Dilley and Karnes City, south of San Antonio—arrived in the United States during the surge of undocumented immigrants of 2014.

Last July, Federal Court Judge Dolly Gee ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, was breaking the terms of a 1997 settlement.

The settlement requires undocumented minors to be removed from detention centers as quickly as possible.

If the federal government can’t do that, the children must be housed in facilities licensed by state agencies responsible for child welfare.

In Texas, that agency is the Department of Family and Protective Services, which, just last week, established a new category of facilities called family residential centers.

Dilley and Karnes City will be under that category and, therefore, allowed to apply for the pertinent license after March 1st, which is when the new category will go into effect.

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Bob Libal is the executive director of Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, which opposes keeping undocumented families in detention centers.

Libal argues the new category will help the federal government keep the facilities open.

“This was essentially an effort to help the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the private prison corporations keep these facilities open when we know these facilities are dangerous for children,” said Libal, referring to the decision by DFPS. Read more about Texas Will Allow Immigrant Detention Centers Apply For A License To Remain Open

Feb 8, 2016
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ThinkProgress

Texas Officials Want Controversial Family Detention Centers To Be Labeled As ‘Child Care’ Centers

Texas state officials are moving ahead with a proposal to license controversial detention centers for detained immigrant families as child care facilities.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Council submitted a proposed rule last week that would create a child care licensing category at two family detention centers located in Dilley and Karnes City. The proposed rule is up for consideration with the state’s Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), though it’s as yet unknown when the commission will make a final decision, the Texas Observer reported.

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The category change has been widely condemned by child welfare and immigrant rights activists who gathered before the meeting to demand that state officials scrap plans. An Open Records Request obtained by the activist organization, Grassroots Leadership, found 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,” according to a press statement. Read more about Texas Officials Want Controversial Family Detention Centers To Be Labeled As ‘Child Care’ Centers

Jan 29, 2016
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Austin American-Statesman

No easy answers as Texas weighs fate of immigrant detention centers

The speakers trekked to the podium one after another, simultaneously lambasting and pleading with a panel of child protection officials weighing the fate of thousands of immigrant mothers and children in detention centers.

Why on earth, they demanded to know, would state officials even think about licensing these places as child care facilities?

“They are prisons, plain and simple,” said Antonio Diaz, an anti-detention center advocate with the Texas Indigenous Council. “They are prisons for profit.”

And so it went for four hours at the December public hearing on whether the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services should license and regulate two Texas facilities that house undocumented mothers and children. But that debate is coming to an end. The agency is expected to announce its decision in the next few weeks.

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“This is not about the welfare of children,” said Bob Libal with Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that opposes the private prison industry. “This is a desperate attempt for the state to bail out the federal government’s immigrant detention regime.” Read more about No easy answers as Texas weighs fate of immigrant detention centers

Dec 17, 2015
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The Austin Chronicle

Speakers Testify Against Detention Facility Relicensing

Public testimony having concluded at the close of business Monday, officials from the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services (DFPS) will now embark on an open-ended deliberation period in which the agency will consider whether to approve two private detention facilities – run by for-profit corporations in cooperation with the Homeland Security's Immigration & Customs Enforcement division – as licensed residential centers for undocumented children.

The proposed relicensing comes in the wake of an eventful half-year that began in July, when California District Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered that migrant children be released from family detention centers. The conditions, she decided, were in violation of an agreement that barred children from being held in unlicensed facilities. DFPS's response was to convert the two facilities, the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, into licensed child-care centers – though the change would be made in name only, not practice. Local advocacy group Grassroots Leadership won a temporary injunction to stop the relicensing in November to allow for public testimony. Read more about Speakers Testify Against Detention Facility Relicensing

Oct 22, 2015
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The Texas Tribune

Lawsuit Aims to Prevent Licensing of Detention Centers

A watchdog group is suing the agency charged with protecting the state’s most vulnerable Texans, alleging the department fast-tracked a policy change that might help the federal government convince a federal judge to reverse her order shutting down two immigration detention centers in Texas.

The lawsuit by Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit group opposed to for-profit prisons, filed in a Travis County state district court, claims that by adopting an emergency rule in September, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services can issue temporary licenses to privately run detention centers in Karnes City and Dilley without publicly detailing how it will ensure the safety and well-being of the immigrants. Read more about Lawsuit Aims to Prevent Licensing of Detention Centers

Oct 23, 2015
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Huffington Post

Pennsylvania Warns Family Immigrant Detention Center: Change Policies Or Lose Your License

One of the three facilities that detains immigrant families in the United States will not be allowed to expand and could lose its license to operate from the state of Pennsylvania -- a major win for the advocacy groups aiming to shut down family detention.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services sent a letter on Thursday to the director of Berks County Residential Center denying a request to double its capacity from 96 to 192. That is because the facility is being used to hold "only refugee immigrant families" when its license is for "child resident facilities," Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas wrote.

If the facility continues to serve families rather than children, the department will not renew its license when it expires in February 2016, Dallas added.

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In July, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled that the family detention policy violated the 1997 Flores settlement, which says that undocumented children must be held in the least restrictive setting and immigration authorities should generally favor a policy of releasing them. The settlement prohibits detaining children for more than a few days in centers that are not licensed child care facilities.

After hearing a government response, Gee ordered the Obama administration in August to quickly release the children -- and in some instances, the mothers -- locked in family detention. She gave U.S. officials until Oct. 23 to show compliance. 

In order to comply with the ruling, the private companies that run the two family detention centers in Texas -- Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group -- have applied to license the centers as child care facilities. The Texas Department of Child Protective Services issued an emergency rule last month to start the licensing process, but the Austin-based group Grassroots Leadership, which opposes the private prison industry, filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping it. Read more about Pennsylvania Warns Family Immigrant Detention Center: Change Policies Or Lose Your License

Jul 28, 2015
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San Diego Free Press

Whistleblower Exposes Torture and Child Abuse at For-Profit Prison

"A social worker formerly employed at a for-profit family immigrant detention center in Texas blew the whistle this week on the prison’s inhumane conditions—from solitary confinement to medical neglect—that she said amount to child abuse and torture.

The Karnes County Residential Center is operated by GEO Group—the second largest private prison company in the country that has faced numerous accusations of atrocities and civil rights violations. It is also the site of recent—and repeated—hunger strikes led by mothers incarcerated with their children, in protest of their conditions, detentions, and in many cases, their looming deportations.
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Cristina Parker of Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based organization that opposes prison profiteering, toldCommon Dreams that there are signs that the tide may be finally turning against these 'wrong, immoral, and traumatizing' prisons." Read more about Whistleblower Exposes Torture and Child Abuse at For-Profit Prison

Jul 28, 2015
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International Business Times

Immigration Reform: Backlash Against Family Detention Could Spark Momentum Against Detention System, Activists Say

"A federal court ruling against the U.S.’s family detention policy for undocumented immigrants could be the final blow to the Obama administration’s contentious practice after months of rising political pressure. But some of the advocates who pushed hard against family detention were hoping the heightened attention might provide a new opening to rally against conditions in the larger U.S. immigration detention system.

'The court ruling found detention illegal for women and children, but we hope that that will impact detention overall, and that people will start seeing there’s a systemic problem,' said Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based group that helped organize some of the high-profile protests against family detention in recent months.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee’s ruling, issued late Friday, found the Obama administration failed to meet the legal requirements in a 1997 settlement for housing undocumented immigrant children, adding that mothers and children in family detention centers stayed in “deplorable” conditions. The 25-page ruling ordered the families to be released. The federal government was given until August 3 to respond to the order, either by laying out a plan for releasing the remaining 1,700 undocumented immigrants in three family detention facilities -- in Karnes County, Texas, Dilley, Texas and Leesport, Pennsylvania -- or by explaining why it should not have to comply with the order." Read more about Immigration Reform: Backlash Against Family Detention Could Spark Momentum Against Detention System, Activists Say

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