December 5, 2016; San Antonio Current
In Travis County, Texas, Judge Karin Crump has ruled that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services must end the practice of licensing immigrant detention centers run by private prison groups as childcare facilities, whether or not they meet basic standards.
The Texas facilities in question are in Karnes and Dilley; together, they can hold 3400 women and children. They are run by the two mega-groups in the private prison industry, GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America, and for the convenience of the feds are designated “state-regulated childcare centers.”
The state made the concession, apparently, to “help out” the federal government after it was successfully sued twice for the conditions in which children were being held. The latest suit was brought in California and produced a ruling that advocates hoped would prevent further large-scale detention of families.
Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit opposing the use of private prisons, brought the suit, using as counsel Jerry Wesevich, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA). Wesevich says there was never any intention of putting the child’s interests first in this arrangement:
The state’s executives admitted in documents and testimony that DFPS wanted to license these facilities to help the federal government, and not the children. Motive matters, and we believe it was the key to the case.
“The conditions at Karnes and Dilley are equivalent to prisons, not childcare facilities,” said Grassroots’ director, Bob Libal. “We are glad the court heard our concerns about the damage that family detention does to mothers and their children and how lowering standards to issue licenses to these facilities only exacerbates that harm.”
Readers may remember that Texas has not always been so cooperative with the federal government around its refugee and immigrant policies. Last year, Governor Greg Abbott ordered nonprofits that resettle refugees in the state to turn away Syrians—even threatening them with legal action if they did not comply. He also tried to sue the federal government for its lack of cooperation with Texas, and just last week he threatened to cut off funding for campuses that wanted to act as sanctuaries for immigrants. Long story short, it sounds like the Texas governor does not mind immigrants—no matter how small—as long as they are safely tucked away in a lock-up facility.—Ruth McCambridge