Texas to license family immigrant detention centers

February 12, 2016
Austin American-Statesman

The state’s child protection agency will now license immigrant family detention centers, all but guaranteeing that the two Texas facilities housing thousands of mothers and children will remain open.

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The state’s child protection agency will now license immigrant family detention centers, all but guaranteeing that the two Texas facilities housing thousands of mothers and children will remain open.

The South Texas Family Residential Center and the Karnes County Residential Center — which can house up to 3,300 families awaiting immigration proceedings — had been in danger of closing because of a July federal court ruling that says children can only live in detention centers if they are licensed by state child welfare agencies. Texas’ facilities are not.

Until now, the state Department of Family and Protective Services had maintained that it didn’t have the legal authority to license, inspect and investigate the facilities. This week, the agency gave itself that power.

The two detention centers, both run by private prison companies, will have to apply for licenses, Family and Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins said. But that licensure is almost assured. For months, the state has insisted that regulation would help protect the children who live there. More recently, officials have also said keeping the centers open helps with immigration control. Federal officials asked Texas to license the facilities, Crimmins told the Statesman last month.

Immigration rights advocates criticized the state’s decision, saying the move is solely motivated by politics.

“I think the agency should be ashamed,” said Bob Libal with Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that opposes private prison companies.