Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

Detention Centers are not child care

*** Editors, producers: Phone interviews available by arrangement with UUSC family detention advocacy leaders Rachel Gore Freed and Pamela Sparr.

For media advisory on December 9 press conference:

AUSTIN, Texas/CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Wednesday December 09, 2015 — International human rights agency the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) joined Texas advocates in Austin today at a press conference protesting the proposed licensing of ICE-contracted family detention centers at Karnes City and Dilley, Texas, as “general residential operations.”

This latest licensing move on the part of the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) under Proposed Rule 40 TAC §748.7 was established on an emergency basis to qualify the secured facilities as child care centers, and could permit Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold asylum seeking children and their parents longer than an August federal court decision permits.

Of primary focus are waves of Central American families and unaccompanied children who have fled violence in their homelands beginning in 2014.

DFPS scheduled the Wednesday hearing for public comments, in order to obtain feedback prior to adoption of a final rule.

The current licensing approach is the second emergency attempt to license the two family detention centers. On November 20, a Texas state judge ordered a temporary injunction on the state’s initial effort to fast track the privately owned Dilley and Karnes facilities as residential child care centers.

A summary statement from UUSC delivered during Wednesday’s press conference said,

“The purpose of the family detention centers at Karnes City and Dilley, Texas, has been to hold families in custody while they undergo immigration and asylum proceedings. Guards and other detention personnel have a specific role to play with specific competencies and requirements. Their training, temperament and policies are antithetical to those of child care professionals.”

On Tuesday, the Cambridge, Massachusetts based rights agency delivered a full statement to DFPS Commissioner John J. Specia, Jr., saying, “These are secure, prison-like facilities run by corrections companies, the Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group. By their very nature, prisons cannot be child care centers.”

UUSC included with its statement to Specia a copy of a letter earlier sent to the commissioner signed by 30 national mental health experts opposing such licensure and the agency’s recent mental health report on Central American children and mothers in detention. The nationally circulated research documents high levels of complex trauma and post-traumatic stress disorders, anxiety and depression, and appalling physical health conditions in children.

Excerpts from UUSC statement:

[Full statement here.]

“The provisions and exceptions in the proposed rule make it clear that it is not a well-thought out change in the State of Texas’s child care regulations, but a last-minute attempt to make the detention centers conform to the Flores agreement.”

“The abuses and human rights violations families face in these facilities are well documented and cannot be remedied by the proposed rule. The addition of a ‘Child-Care Administrator,’ CPR training, and ‘additional staff’ who answer to the corrections corporation do not solve the systemic problems in these facilities.”

UUSC has been a vocal advocate in Texas and nationally against administration policies on detention of asylum seeking mothers and children and against the documented abuses of traumatized family members at the hands of U.S. Border Patrol officials, ICE and privately-owned detention center staff at the Karnes and Dilley centers and a third family detention center in Berks County Pennsylvania.

Presenters at the press conference included Austin-based immigration attorney Virginia Raymond, Texas Associate Director of Children’s Defense Fund Laura Guerra-Cardus, RAICES Texas Executive Director Jonathan Ryan, School of Social work professor Laurie Cook-Heffron and others.