Child welfare experts, immigrant rights advocates, former immigrant detainees and even a woman born behind barbed wire in a Japanese internment camp are urging Texas not to license federal immigration lockups as “child care” centers.
Officials with the Texas Department of Family Services heard some three hours of testimony Wednesday from more than 40 witnesses deeply troubled by the agency’s plan to create a whole new child care licensing category for two facilities that primarily detain asylum-seeking women and children. The compounds, built in the tiny, geographically isolated South Texas towns of Karnes and Dilley, are run by the same private prison behemoths that have seen profits soar with the rise in immigration enforcement and detention.
Such “family residential centers,” as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials call them, have come under fire not just by advocates but also by the courts. This summer, a federal judge in California ruled that the family lockups violate a longstanding legal settlement designed to keep the feds from ever again holding immigrant children in prison-like conditions. As the feds scrambled to comply with the judge’s ruling, Texas came in with the assist: state child protection officials would call it an “emergency,” fast-track the process of creating a whole new category for family detention centers and potentially license the facilities without even giving the public opportunity to vet or comment on the plan.
Immigrant rights advocates were appalled that Texas would try to save the distasteful practice of family detention. Child welfare experts, who contend the type of family detention employed by ICE is damaging to child development, were floored by the plan, saying Texas was lowering its child care standards to meet those of ICE.
Late last month, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Austin-based advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, a state district judged ruled no such “emergency” existed and that the state couldn’t bypass the normal process. DFPS was forced to hold a public comment period.