Dozens of immigrant rights organizers, child welfare advocates, academic researchers, and immigrant families released from detention centers gathered at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) headquarters on Wednesday for a public hearing regarding a proposed rule to license the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City and the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley as child-care facilities. Both family detention centers have documented histories of human rights abuses, including the abuse of children.
In November, the Texas-based organization Grassroots Leadership won a temporary injunction in its suit to stop DFPS from licensing the family detention centers as child-care facilities under an emergency rule, which would have eliminated the minimum child safety standards applicable to all child-care facilities in the state.
Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, which works to end for-profit incarceration and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention, told Rewire that Wednesday’s hearing was a direct result of the injunction that forced DFPS to hear the public’s concerns around using these prisons as child-care facilities.
“Dozens and dozens of people came to testify,” Libal said. “All of them were against licensing these facilities as child-care centers. We had a diverse group of advocates and people with lived experience of being in these facilities and working in these facilities and all of them testified that family prison should never be a child-care facility.”
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In July, Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered that migrant children be released from family detention centers. Judge Gee said migrant children had been held in “widespread deplorable conditions” in Texas Border Patrol stations, and she said authorities had “wholly failed” to provide the “safe and sanitary” conditions required for children even in temporary cells. These conditions were in violation of the Flores v. Meese agreement, which states that children should not be held in unlicensed facilities. In September, DFPS began the process of trying to keep the detention facilities open to house women and children by creating a new child-care licensing category for family detention centers.
Proposed Rule 40, as it’s called, would make “outrageous exceptions” for family detention centers that would allow them to be licensed as “child care facilities” under reduced minimum standards, Grassroots Leadership said in a press release.
“Proposed Rule 40 changes the way that these facilities can be licensed; it changes the regulations that would allow these facilities to be licensed when they wouldn’t meet all of the regulations that govern other child-care facilities, especially as it relates to housing arrangements, like having children of different genders from different families living in the same space,” Libal said. “By definition, a prison isn’t a place for children and it certainly shouldn’t be operating as a child-care facility, so there were things the government had to change in terms of regulations and lowering the standards of child care to allow these facilities to fit into the definition of child care that can be licensed.”
DFPS has until December 14 to receive comments.
“The real concern is that, as we’re already seeing, they’ll [DFPS] receive only negative comments from a wide range of experts concerning the facilities and how they should not ever be licensed as child-care facilities, but then they’ll go ahead and license them anyways,” Libal said. “Would they do that? That’s the real question.”