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Judge Rules Against State’s Efforts To House Children Longer At Detention Centers

Peter O'Dowd

A State Judge in Austin has ruled against the State of Texas’ efforts to house children for longer periods of time at the immigration detention centers in Karnes City and Dilley.  

In September, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services announced it would be granting a special license -- without public comment on the issue -- to the two private companies used by the state to run the federal immigration detention centers. The license would allow the centers to be used as residential facilities, which would have enabled the State to keep the children of undocumented immigrants inside these lockups for longer periods of time.

Bob Libal, with the Austin-based nonprofit Grassroots Principals, says that would have allowed the state to circumvent the process and ignore a public outcry about the conditions at these facilities.  So Libal’s group filed a lawsuit against the Department of Family Protective Services in state court.

“The State of Texas rushed to create an emergency rule to license these facilities as child-welfare facilities.  And we filed a lawsuit to say there was no emergency that required the licensing of these facilities,” Libal said.

Travis County District Judge Karin Crump agreed with the group’s assessment and ruled against the state, directing the Department of Family Protective Services to hold a public hearing on the matter.

Libal said while the judge’s ruling doesn’t stop the agency from moving forward with the new rules it does allow opponents to voice their concerns.

He said the emergency rule would’ve also lowered the standard of care at the two detention centers  so that children with their families could continue to be housed for longer periods of time in a facility originally intended to be an immigration lock-up.  Libal pointed out that the average age of a child inside the Dilley facility is 6 years old.

“These facilities have come under enormous criticism for the conditions in which kids and their moms are detained there, from immigrant rights organizations, from child welfare groups, from social workers, including from social workers that have worked at the facility and have quit because of the conditions there,” Libal explained.

Libal said a vast majority of those being kept at the Karnes and Dilley facilities are immigrants calling themselves refugees, including two Syrian families that recently walked across the international bridges of the Rio Grande Valley and asked for asylum.