Karnes Family Residential Center

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?

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 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

Dec 5, 2016
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The Huffington Post

Hundreds Of Immigrant Moms And Kids Freed From Detention After Texas Court Ruling

Hundreds of women and children were released from two family detention centers over the weekend, after a Texas state judge sided with critics who say the facilities more closely resemble jails than child care centers.

The mass releases were a victory for immigrant rights advocates, who argue that it’s unnecessary and inhumane to lock up undocumented mothers and kids seeking asylum in the U.S.

The state lawsuit focused narrowly on emergency rules designed to allow the detention facilities to meet Texas’ child care licensing standards. But the state case arises out of ongoing federal litigation, which has put Immigration and Customs Enforcement on notice that these facilities are not acceptable places to house kids.

“This may not be the end of our legal battles,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, which brought the state lawsuit. “But for now, if these facilities want to apply to operate as child care facilities, they have to do it like any other child care facility ― rather than the state designing a rule that fits prisons.”

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The Karnes and Dilley detention centers would need to make significant changes to qualify as child care facilities under previously established Texas law. One problem is that the centers hold multiple families together in a single unit, meaning children have been housed with unrelated adults ― a generally prohibited practice for child care facilities because of the risk of abuse.

Another key issue is that children’s presence at licensed child care facilities is essentially optional and they can leave. By contrast, kids can’t leave the detention centers at Karnes or Dilley unless ICE or an immigration judge releases them.

Despite the ongoing litigation, ICE extended CoreCivic’s contract to run the Dilley detention center in October.

 
Read more about Hundreds Of Immigrant Moms And Kids Freed From Detention After Texas Court Ruling
Dec 5, 2016
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The San Antonio Current

Texas Blocked From Licensing Immigration Lockups as Child Care Centers

Texas can't lower its standards in order to license a couple of South Texas immigration lockups run by private prison corporations. 

That's the result of a final judgement issued by a Travis County judge late Friday in a lawsuit triggered by the state's unusual decision to license immigrant detention centers as child care facilities. In her final ruling, Judge Karin Crump said that allowing the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to give family detention centers the state stamp of approval "runs counter to the general objectives of the Texas Human Resources Code." 

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Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that opposes private prisons, filed a lawsuit earlier this year to block state licensing of the centers. Jerry Wesevich, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid who represented Grassroots, said that state licensing of detention centers was never about ensuring the welfare of children. “The state’s executives admitted in documents and testimony that DFPS wanted to license these facilities to help the federal government, and not the children," Wesevich, said. "Motive matters and we believe it was the key to the case." 

“The conditions at Karnes and Dilley are equivalent to prisons, not childcare facilities,” said Grassroots director Bob Libal. “We are glad the court heard our concerns about the damage that family detention does to mothers and their children and how lowering standards to issue licenses to these facilities only exacerbates that harm."

Libal also asked that the Obama Administration "end the practice of detaining immigrant families once and for all." Read more about Texas Blocked From Licensing Immigration Lockups as Child Care Centers

Dec 4, 2016
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My San Antonio

State cannot issue child care licenses for family detention centers, judgment finds

A judge issued a final judgment Friday to prevent the state from issuing a child care license for family detention centers, such as the 2,400-bed immigration detention center in Dilley or a 1,000-bed center in Karnes County, according to the Austin-based advocacy group Grassroots Leadership.

The group sued the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services along with the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group earlier this year after DFPS issued a child care license for the Karnes County Residential Center. In June, State District Judge Karin Crump issued a temporary injunction against the department.

“During hearings in May and June, Judge Crump heard testimony from mothers detained at the facilities who testified to the prison-like conditions at the facility, and child welfare and faith leaders who argued that children locked up with their mothers in immigrant family detention camps are not safe, physically or mentally,” a press release from Grassroots Leadership read.

... Read more about State cannot issue child care licenses for family detention centers, judgment finds

Apr 19, 2015
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RawStory

Asylum-seeking mothers launch hunger strike over inhumane conditions at Texas detention center

"According to a new report from the Grassroots Leadership, private for-profit prison corporations spent $11 million over six years to lobby Congress to keep a mandatory immigrant detention quota.

Today, 9 out of the 10 largest immigrant detention centers are private, with 8 owned by only two corporations, the GED Group and CCA. Since the end of 2007, the GEO Group has increased their profits by 244% and CCA by 46%." Read more about Asylum-seeking mothers launch hunger strike over inhumane conditions at Texas detention center

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