(AUSTIN, Texas) — The Texas Senate bowed to pressure from the private prison industry and today passed a bill to license family detention centers whose House companion was written by a private prison lobbyist. SB 1018 would allow the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to create exemptions to their existing General Residential Operations code to license family detention centers in Karnes City and Dilley as childcare facilities.
It was opposed by pediatricians, children’s rights advocates, social workers, and legal services providers who have worked in the family detention centers.
“This is a disgrace,” said Barbara Hines, a fellow at the Emerson Collective and former clinical professor of law at the University of Texas. “Today, Texas Senators sided with private prison corporations over the interests of children.”
“The Children’s Defense Fund of Texas is deeply disappointed with the Texas Senate’s passage of SB 1018 today,” said Dr. Laura Guerra-Cardus, Deputy Director of the Children’s Defense Fund Texas. “This reprehensible vendor bill puts a rubber stamp on the damaging incarceration of legally present, asylum-seeking children and families. In so doing, the legislators who supported this bill are not only hurting children, they are putting Texas at risk for more long and expensive legal battles over the violation of the human rights of children. Drafted by the very corporations who will benefit, this bill is repellent and inhumane. Texas will bear responsibility for the continued psychological harm to children fleeing violence who will be jailed in these facilities.”
"If we don't stand for children, we don't stand for much. The Texas Senate yet again ignored overwhelming opposition from faith, legal, and immigrant communities to advance a bill that discriminates against some of the most vulnerable children in Texas,” said Marisa Bono, MALDEF’s Southwest Regional Counsel. “Texas claims it wants to do right by Texas foster care children one day, then lowers standards for refugee children the next. It's textbook hypocrisy.”
The development comes just weeks after a Texas state lawmaker admitted that a bill he introduced to license family detention centers as child care facilities was introduced at the behest of private prison corporation GEO Group, according to a report in the Associated Press. The Associated Press reported that the bill came directly from a private prison company that stands to benefit from its passage:
A state representative who introduced the measure acknowledged that the proposed legislation came directly from GEO Group, the nation's second-largest private prison company, which operates Karnes.
"I've known the lady who's their lobbyist for a long time ...That's where the legislation came from," said state Rep. John Raney, a Republican from the rural town of Bryan. "We don't make things up. People bring things to us and ask us to help."
A report released last month by Texans for Public Justice showed that private prison companies are paying lobbyists $480,000 to advocate for them in front of Texas lawmakers as they consider the proposal to license lucrative immigration jails.
GEO Group had previously told its investors that attaining licensing would allow it to detain children for longer periods of time, saying: “Presently, the center operates as a short-term processing facility and this licensing process will allow for longer lengths of stay.”
The effort to pass legislation to license the family detention centers as child care facilities comes after a successful lawsuit from Grassroots Leadership and women detained with their children at the Karnes and Dilley detention camps. In December, Judge Karin Crump of the 250th District Court invalidated the Texas regulation that allowed for the licensure of Karnes and Dilley. According to the court, the regulation allowing for licensing of family detention centers "contravenes Texas Human Resources Code § 42.002(4) and runs counter to the general objectives of the Texas Human Resources Code."
Karnes and Dilley Detention Centers opened in 2014 and have been plagued with reports of inadequate medical care, sexual abuse, poor conditions, and exasperating the impact of trauma on the children inside. Licenses would not provide oversight to the poor conditions, but rather lead to the prolonged detention of the families inside.
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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation and criminalization are things of the past.
RAICES, founded in 1986 as part of the sanctuary movement in South Texas, fights for the rights of asylum seekers, refugees, victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, and immigrants to create a more just world.