Fate of family detention centers will be left to the courts

An attempt to reclassify Texas immigrant detention centers as “child care”-like facilities falls short for private prison proponents

Written by Beryl Lipton
Edited by JPat Brown

The Texas Legislature recently considered bills that would have reclassified two privately-operated immigration detention centers as “general residential operations” under State law, permitting them to expand their operations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Senate Bill 1018 passed last week, which would allow controversial facilities like CoreCivic’s South Texas Family Residential Center and GEO Group’s Karnes County Residential Center to proceed with detention of children apprehended as part of immigration law enforcement.

However, the House bill failed to come to the floor in time to receive a vote, meaning that, for now, legislative efforts to permit the use of the preexisting facilities have been stalled.

In July 2015, a federal court judge found that practices for the detention of minor immigrants were in violation of a 1997 settlement in Flores v. Meese dictating that children must be held in facilities that meet state and national standards for the care of minors.

SB 1018 and its partner legislation House Bill 2225 were both seen by advocates as being products of private prison interests rather than genuine attempts to ensure the safety and well-being of the children and families involved.

“I’ve known the lady who’s [GEO Group’s] lobbyist for a long time,” state Rep. John Raney, the author of the house bill told the Associated Press. “That’s where the legislation came from … We don’t make things up. People bring things to us and ask us to help.”

Under the intended reclassification, the family residential centers in question would be considered akin to child care centers …

subjecting them to standards and inspections expected to help protect the safety of their minor wards.

However, despite the assumed imposition of minimum child care standards …

the Senate bill permitted such standards to be specifically waived.

The bills were the latest attempt to circumvent legal restrictions on licensing the centers as child care facilities under the Department of Family Protective Services, even after a Texas judge ruled last year that such classification was inappropriate.

South Texas Family Residential Center, which was built during an Obama-era influx of undocumented migrants from Central America, is rated to hold 2,400, but the actual population has fallen to the low hundreds in recent months, according to the Intercept. Nonetheless, the fixed rate contract continues to guarantee its operator over $12 million per month.

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Image via Wikimedia Commons