Dozens of activists gathered for a public hearing and press conference in Austin on Wednesday, hoping to block family detention centers from becoming licensed child care facilities.
One woman, who was held in a South Texas detention center for 11 months, told reporters that she and her son fled their home country of Guatemala in 2014, hoping to secure asylum in the United States. Upon their arrival, Hilda — who asked that their last name not be used — and 9-year-old Ivan were placed in the Karnes County Residential Center, one of the two federal family detention centers currently housing an estimated 2,000 migrant women and children in Texas.
During their internment at Karnes, Hilda said, her son did not get proper medical care when he was sick, and Hilda watched as other children grew thin and often fainted, because of the poor quality of the food. She described a sterile, prison-like environment, where guards would only bring out toys and blankets for children when federal officials would visit the facility.
In September, DFPS began trying to keep the detention facilities open to house women and children by creating a new child care licensing category for family detention centers. But Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that has fought for the closure of family detention centers since 2006, filed suit against DFPS in order to block the licensure, and a Travis County district court halted the state’s efforts in late November. Instead, ruled Judge Karin Crump, the state would have to complete the normal administrative process required when creating new child care licensing rules and hold a public hearing.
That hearing took place Wednesday over the course of three hours at DFPS headquarters, where activists called the agency’s attempt to secure child care licenses for detention centers a way to “legitimize the detention of children,” which would perpetuate the traumatic and emotional impact of the violence and persecution migrant families experienced in their home countries.