Child care licensing of detention center blocked for now

ICE: State license enhances "oversight, transparency"

SAN ANTONIO – Temporarily blocked from getting a child care license, the privately run South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley is headed for a final court hearing in September.

“This is one step in a long fight,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based group that opposes for-profit prisons, that is a plaintiff in the case.

At issue, said Libal, is whether the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has the authority to license family detention centers “under lowered standards.”

“Family detention camps are prisons. They are not child care facilities,” Libal has said previously. “Slapping a license on the facilities will not change that fact.”

Operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, the facility in Dilley is the nation’s largest. It can house up to 2,400 women and children, mostly Central Americans in the U.S. illegally.

GEO runs a separate facility in Karnes City.

However, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that being licensed by the state of Texas “represents an important step forward in ICE’s commitment to enhancing oversight and transparency of family detention centers.”

Grassroots Leadership and other opponents have said trying to get a child care license is an attempt to comply with a federal court ruling in July, now under appeal.

It called for the immigrants held in Texas to be released as soon as possible. The judge in that case ruled the current detention centers violate a legal settlement requiring that the health and safety of juveniles be protected.

A mother from Honduras released from the Dilley center along with her two sons said although they were treated well enough, other families were not.

She said it was still a jail. “They should close it,” she said. “It’s an injustice when you have children.”