Family Detention

In 2009, Grassroots Leadership ran a successful campaign to end family detention at the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor Texas. When the Obama administration announced that it would stop detaining families at Hutto, only 100 family detention beds remained at a small facility in Pennsylvania. However, after the wave of Central American families and children seeking refuge at our border in the summer of 2014, the administration reversed its decision, opening facilities at Artesia, New Mexico; Karnes, Texas, and Dilley, Texas - all run by private prison corporations. While Artesia closed at the end of last year, the number of family detention beds has skyrocketed and is expected to reach over 3,000 by this May. Grassroots Leadership is once again working to end the inhumane policy of family detention.

Facts About Family Detention

Find out more about what family detention is, what the conditions are like, who opposes it, and more on our regularly-updated resource page: Facts about Family Detention

 

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Mar 30, 2017
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The Huffington Post

Texas Republicans Hope To Give Child Care Licenses To Family Detention Centers

Republican state senators took a first step toward licensing two controversial family detention centers as child care facilities on Wednesday, selling the possible change as a way to keep the Trump administration from splitting up immigrant mothers and children at the border.  

At a hearing of the Texas Senate’s Veterans Affairs and Border Security Committee, Republicans said a bill relaxing standards for child care licenses would help the family detention centers skirt problems posed by ongoing lawsuits.

But critics ― including legal groups, members of the Catholic Church and immigrant rights advocates ― described family detention centers as little more than “baby jails.” Citing the fact that most of the mothers and children in detention are Central Americans fleeing violence who apply for asylum, they say there’s no need for family detention centers at all.

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The Obama administration hastily expanded the all-but-abandoned family detention policy back in 2014, as tens of thousands of Central American migrants crossed into the United States. Two family immigrant detention centers, both run by private prison contractors, currently operate in Texas. But the policy of detaining mothers with their children for extended periods has prompted lawsuits.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled in 2015 that locking up immigrant children with their mothers violated the Flores settlement, which requires children to be detained in non-secure facilities and generally favors their release. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services issued emergency rules that year to reclassify the state’s detention centers as “child care” facilities under state law to help them comply with the ruling.

But in a case brought by former detainees and the activist group Grassroots Leadership, a state judge later ruled that family detention centers simply don’t fit the definition of a child care facility under Texas law.

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And authorities wouldn’t actually have to separate mothers and children at the border if the family detention centers became adult facilities. Nothing in immigration law requires them to be detained at all.

In practice, many of the undocumented women and children apprehended by authorities never see the inside of a detention center after crossing into the United States. Instead, they receive a notice to appear in immigration court and fight their cases from outside detention. Most of them petition for asylum or some other permission to stay in the United States for humanitarian reasons. Read more about Texas Republicans Hope To Give Child Care Licenses To Family Detention Centers

Mar 30, 2017
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Rewire

Texas GOP: Treat Detention Centers as Child-Care Facilities

Republican-backed legislation introduced in the Texas legislature would enable the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to license two family detention centers as child-care facilities, while allowing the department to exempt these facilities from state rules.

Family detention is the policy of jailing asylum-seeking immigrant mothers with their children, including babies. The family detention centers in question are the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City. The bills would strike down a law that prevents DFPS from issuing child-care licenses, essentially allowing prison-like detention centers to operate as child-care facilities with reduced standards. For example, multiple families could be detained in one room, which isn’t allowed in child-care facilities outside of immigration detention.

Advocates assert that the GOP effort to allow DFPS to license these facilities has nothing to do with concern for children or providing oversight to the detention centers. Rather, it is to make sure the deadly private prison companies that run these family detention centers—the GEO Group and CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America—continue reaping profits.

Bob Libal, executive director of the Austin-based human rights organization Grassroots Leadership, said it’s also about acting in the best interest of the federal government.

“The stated reason from DFPS for pushing for these licenses is so they can regulate the facilities and do inspections, but that’s not the truth. It’s really about slapping licenses on these facilities, while also not making them come up to licensing standards,” Libal said. “This is all very political. This is happening because [DFPS] wanted to help the federal government detain children and families. This is not in the interest of children; it’s about upholding the Flores legislation.”

In 1997, the settlement agreement in Flores v. Lynch confirmed that children arriving to the United States with their mothers should not be held in unlicensed secure detention centers. Rather than closing these family detention centers, DFPS and the state of Texas has pushed to have them licensed. Despite not being licensed, these facilities continue to operate in violation of federal law.

People who had been held in family detention, as well as immigration and child-welfare advocates, spoke out at a Wednesday hearing in opposition to the proposed bills.

What’s perhaps most troubling about the bills, Libal said, is that they give the DFPS commissioner the ability to change standards or reduce them further.

“There’s a reason why people from the American Academy of Pediatrics and similar groups, that usually don’t work around immigration, are speaking out: Because this is bad for children,” Libal said. “If you read the bill, it says that the commissioner would have this power in part, for the operation of the facility. This means they can change the standards on the books in order for private prison companies to operate these facilities however they want to. This isn’t a regulation regime that improves standards; it allows for current operations to exist as private prison corporations design them.”

The practice of family detention has been deemed inhumane and is known to be detrimental to the health and well-being of children, but the family detention system will only grow under President Trump. The new administration is following in the footsteps of President Obama, targeting Central American asylum seekers and expanding immigrant detention. Just three months into Trump’s presidency, the private prison industry is booming, with companies like GEO and CoreCivic, known for human rights abuses andin-custody deaths, standing to benefit further.

Libal said that despite public opposition to the bills, GOP lawmakers seem in favor of moving them forward.

“There’s no telling what will happen in the Texas legislature, but we’ll just keep speaking out,” Libal said. “I have a lot of concerns for the future of family detention. These licenses are just a way to avoid the implications of federal litigation that have to do with standards that should be used when caring for children. This is an immigration issue, but it’s also a children’s rights issue. These bills are absolutely the wrong way to go forward.” Read more about Texas GOP: Treat Detention Centers as Child-Care Facilities

Jan 25, 2017
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The San Antonio Current

Trump's Order Means Border Wall, More Immigrant Detention In Texas

Five days after his swearing in as president, Donald Trump signed executive orders on immigration that seem to follow through with some of his bleakest campaign promises — from strong-arming Mexico into paying for a border wall to banning Muslim immigrants from entering the country (including refugees of Syria's brutal civil war) and building up a deportation force to remove some of the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Trump's Order Means Border Wall, More Immigrant Detention In Texas

Posted By  on Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 5:40 pm

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Five days after his swearing in as president, Donald Trump signed executive orders on immigration that seem to follow through with some of his bleakest campaign promises — from strong-arming Mexico into paying for a border wall to banning Muslim immigrants from entering the country (including refugees of Syria's brutal civil war) and building up a deportation force to remove some of the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. 

What the Trump White House announced on Wednesday is expected to have an enormous impact on Texas, which over the past decade has already seen a buildup of federal agents, state police, fencing and walls and other barriers along its 1,250 mile border with Mexico. In addition to expediting the buildup of a border wall (which Texas members of Congress don't even really want), the Trump administration hinted at how it might try to force Mexico to chip in on its construction; one executive order Trump signed Wednesday directs agency heads to "identify and quantify" the amount of foreign aid Mexico has received over the past five years, which the Trump administration could threaten to withhold if Mexico won't play ball. 

What's also notable, but not surprising, about Trump's executive action on immigration is that it expands the massive detention complex that has thrived in South Texas — and enriched private prison corporations that secured lucrative federal contracts to jail everyone from immigrants convicted of crimes to asylum-seeking women and children. Here's what White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Wednesday, according to the Texas Tribune: "We’re going to create more detention space for illegal immigrants along the southern border to make it easier and cheaper to detain them and return them to their country of origin. We’re going to end the last administration’s dangerous catch-and-release policy, which has led to the deaths of many Americans.”

Cristina Parker with Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based nonprofit that's pushed against the buildup of private-prison run immigrant detention centers in Texas (and even went to court when state health officials tried to give one such facility a child care license last year), said this of Wednesday's executive action: "This will almost certainly mean more immigrant detention in Texas, and if the past is any indicator, we'll be putting even more people in the hands of for-profit prison companies." 

... Read more about Trump's Order Means Border Wall, More Immigrant Detention In Texas

Jan 9, 2017
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KXAN

Austin groups defending locals against Trump’s immigration policies

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several Texas groups say they plan to resist Donald Trump’s immigration policies here locally.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Grassroots Leadership, the Austin Sanctuary Network and the group ICE Out of Austin held a news conference on Monday morning. They talked about plans to defend people against deportation and how local and state policies can help their cause.

The immigration allies say the new Trump administration is fueled by hate and is quick to attack inherent human rights. Together they plan to build a foundation of resistance to impact policies and change. The conference announced their plans for Deportation Defense and Sanctuary in the Streets. Read more about Austin groups defending locals against Trump’s immigration policies

Dec 20, 2016
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AlterNet

Mothers Incarcerated With Their Children in Obama's Disgraceful Family Prisons Want Freedom for the Holidays

“We are desperate because this will be the second Christmas that our children have to spend here,” 17 mothers incarcerated at the Berks County Family Detention Center wrote in a recent joint letter to state authorities,publicized by the advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership. “This is in addition to all the other special dates—such as the birthdays of our children and our own, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.—that we have had to spend in this jail… We ask you, 17 desperate mothers, to give the biggest gift to our children of being able to spend Christmas among family.”

Nearly 500 mothers and children are locked up in Berks, one of three remaining “family detention centers” in the United States. In 2014, the Obama administration responded to the crisis of violent displacement from Central American countries by incarcerating mothers with their children in facilities that human rights observers say amount to prisons.

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With Donald Trump slated to take the White House in a month, advocates say now is a vital time for the Obama administration to shut down the facilities and disavow their legacy. While it is difficult to predict what policies the incoming administration will unleash, the president-elect has threatened mass deportations targeting 11 million undocumented people in the United States, including up to three million forced evictions in the first 100 days.

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“Instead of handing the keys to these prisons to Donald Trump, Obama can instead end this now," said Cristina Parker, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership. “Family detention is a national disgrace, and a blemish on Obama’s already-terrible record on deportations." Read more about Mothers Incarcerated With Their Children in Obama's Disgraceful Family Prisons Want Freedom for the Holidays

50 Advocacy Groups: President Obama should do these 6 things to begin dismantling deportation machine before leaving office

(AUSTIN, Texas) — More than 50 advocacy organizations have sent an open letter to President Barack Obama calling for six key reforms to dismantle the vast immigration detention and deportation apparatus before handing it over to the Donald J. Trump administration.   Read more about 50 Advocacy Groups: President Obama should do these 6 things to begin dismantling deportation machine before leaving office

Texas immigrant rights advocates support demonstration at Berks family detention center

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Today, the Shut Down Berks Coalition will hold a demonstration at the Pennsylvania State Capitol to demand that Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary Ted Dallas immediately shut the doors of the Berks family detention center and ensure the families imprisoned there don’t spend yet another Christmas incarcerated. Immigrant rights groups in Texas are echoing their call to close Berks and all end family detention. Read more about Texas immigrant rights advocates support demonstration at Berks family detention center

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

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