After Texas Licenses Detention Center as a Child-Care Facility, Advocates Get Small Legal Win

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After Texas Licenses Detention Center as a Child-Care Facility, Advocates Get Small Legal Win

Tina Vasquez

Grassroots Leadership, along with two mothers who are detained in Texas with their children, filed paperwork Tuesday seeking an injunction and restraining order after the Department of Family and Protective Services quietly granted Karnes—another family detention center—a child-care license on April 29.

A judge in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday issued the organization Grassroots Leadership a temporary restraining order preventing the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) from being able to issue a child-care license to the South Texas Family Residential Center, a family detention center in Dilley, Texas.

Grassroots Leadership, along with two mothers who are detained in Texas with their children, filed the paperwork Tuesday seeking an injunction and restraining order after DFPS quietly granted Karnes—another family detention center—a child-care license on April 29.

Grassroots Leadership announced in a press release that the order will last until May 13, when the court will hear the organization’s application for a temporary injunction that would stop the implementation of a Texas regulation that provides child-care licenses for federal immigrant detention facilities.

Grassroots Leadership officials have fought this legal battle for months. DFPS in September began trying to keep Texas’ family detention centers open by creating a new child-care licensing category for family detention centers.

In November, the organization won a temporary injunction to stop DFPS from licensing Karnes and Dilley as child-care facilities under an emergency rule that would have eliminated minimum child safety standards applicable to all child-care facilities in Texas. The injunction forced the detention centers to go through the traditional licensing procedure, which enabled public and advocacy organizations to offer feedback during that process. However, in February, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission approved a proposed rule to reduce child-care standards, permitting Karnes and Dilley to move forward with the licensing process.

Bob Libal, Grassroots Leadership’s executive director, speaking to Rewire before Wednesday’s announcement, said he wasn’t surprised by anything that had transpired, or how quickly it happened.

“The state has tried to fast-track this at every possible turn,” he said. “What’s really happening is that DFPS is trying to help the federal government enforce its harsh detention policy on moms and kids. What we are trying to say is that these prisons are not child-care facilities, and DFPS does not have the ability to change the regulations to license these facilities as child-care facilities.”

Libal said that DFPS has interpreted the law to mean that it has authority to regulate these family detention centers, which he said is the same as saying that prisons are acceptable child-care facilities.

“For the past ten years, DFPS hasn’t regulated these facilities because they said they don’t have the authority,” he said. “They only changed their mind when the federal government asked them to step in and license these facilities because of the Flores litigation. I think there is something very suspect about that. Our argument, of course, is that they never had the right to do any of this in the first place,” he continued, referring to detaining children.

The Flores v. Meese agreement was another battle that originated in Texas. The Flores litigation states that children can’t be held in unlicensed facilities, which is the reason the family detention centers Karnes and Dilley are trying to become licensed child-care facilities. Otherwise they could no longer operate.

Closing the facilities doesn’t appear to be an option for Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, the country’s two largest private prison corporations that happen to operate Dilly and Karnes. Both companies have made millions of dollars from detaining families, as Grassroots Leadership reported.

“The whole reason for this licensing to come up after a decade of not regulating these facilities is to continue to have this very harsh family detention enforcement regime,” Libal said. “These facilities were open for more than a year before the state said they needed to license them. So there was no hurry on the state’s part until it looked like these facilities were going to lose their ability to operate. Simply put, these are not appropriate places for children. DFPS is responsible for ensuring child and family welfare and what they’re doing is exactly the opposite.”