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Fate of Immigration Detention in Texas

AUSTIN – In December 2015, immigrant advocates spoke during a public hearing, pleading with child protection officials to consider the fate of thousands of undocumented women and children that are being held in detention centers.

Immigrant advocates are strongly against the state licensing the detention centers as child care facilities.

“They are prisons, plain and simple,” said Antonio Diaz, of the Texas Indigenous Council. “They are prisons for profit.”

The public hearing in December when on for hours; at issue is whether the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services should license and begin regulating the two detention centers in Texas that are housing thousands of undocumented immigrants, who are mothers and children.

State officials are deciding if they will keep the two detention centers in Texas open to house undocumented immigrants. The facilities were built after Texas experienced a surge of immigrants from Central America in 2014.

In the past, state officials contended that it was necessary to license the facilities because the children were in imminent peril. In January however, their opinion changed and they said publicly that the licensing move was about immigration control.

What changed? In July, a decision by a federal court judge banned federal authorities from housing children in facilities that were not licensed by state child welfare agencies – that is what compelled state officials to push harder for the licensing.

Following the judge’s decision, Texas and the federal government were left with two options, either license and regulate the two Texas facilities, or release the illegal immigrants into the community without regard to the federal immigration laws and processes.

“The federal government therefore requested licensure to prevent this, and Texas agreed,” said Department of Family and Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins.

Immigrant rights advocates are opposing the state licensing. They say that regulating the “baby jails” would only help keep these facilities open. Their solution is to have the women and children released into the community.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is expected to announce its decision in the upcoming weeks.

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