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No Kids Behind Bars: For-Profit Texas Immigration Jails Challenged over Child Detention

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Two of the most controversial detention centers nationwide opened last year in the Texas towns of Dilley and Karnes. They are run by private prison companies, and together they can hold more than 2,500 women and children. Last week a Texas judge temporarily halted the state’s efforts to license their family detention centers as child care facilities, putting their future in jeopardy. For more, we are joined by Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, which filed the lawsuit prompting the stay in Texas.

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AMY GOODMAN: Well, last week, a Texas judge temporarily halted the state’s efforts to license their family detention centers as child care facilities, putting their future in jeopardy. We’re also joined by Bob Libal, who is executive director of Grassroots Leadership, which filed the lawsuit prompting the stay in Texas.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Bob.

BOB LIBAL: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what’s going on now in Texas.

BOB LIBAL: Sure. Well, essentially, Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, the two private prison corporations that operate the two massive family detention camps in Texas, in Karnes and in Dilley, have applied for child care licenses for these family prisons. And the state of Texas has responded by attempting to go through an emergency process to license these facilities, even though these facilities have been open for more than a year, and it doesn’t appear that this is in any response to any sort of child care issue.

And so we’ve joined other advocates around the country, 140 organizations and social workers and legal professionals, in writing a letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services saying that this is, you know, not in the best interest of children. And we’ve also filed suit with the state of Texas, saying that there was no reason for them to issue emergency licenses. And we’ve actually won a temporary restraining order. And we’ll be in court again next week to—for the next step in that process. Essentially, we’re arguing that groups like ours and other child welfare organizations should have the ability to weigh in on this process, and that, you know, this is happening to appease Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group and—

AMY GOODMAN: These private prison companies.

BOB LIBAL: Right, these for-profit prison corporations are attempting to license what is essentially the largest trend in family detention since Japanese internment as child care facilities.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was exactly my point. How do they get away with trying to redefine a detention center as a child care facility? What is the—what’s the criteria or the bright line that they have to pass to go from one to the other?

BOB LIBAL: Right. Well, the state of Texas has laws, right, that sort of lay out what child care facilities are supposed to be. And part of that process is that organizations have the ability to weigh in, right, and have the ability—there’s a procedure by which a facility can be licensed as a child care facility. And the state of Texas has essentially not followed the law and not allowed Texans to weigh in on that process.

AMY GOODMAN: What does the American Academy of Pediatrics say about this?

BOB LIBAL: Well, they’ve been very firm that family detention is not appropriate for children. And another thing that I would note is the social worker—the head social worker at the Karnes family detention center actually resigned her position and said that she could no longer continue being a social worker at this facility, that she thought that what she was doing there actually endangered her licensure. And so, this was a very experienced social worker, former professor, former social work teacher.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you so much for your reporting, Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, and Renée, for your reporting. Renée Feltz is the criminal justice correspondent for Democracy Now! And you can link to her reporting at democracynow.org. When we come back, We Are Many. Stay with us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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