Speakers Testify Against Detention Facility Relicensing

Instead of changing conditions, DFPS plans to just change detention center classification

Public testimony having concluded at the close of business Monday, officials from the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services (DFPS) will now embark on an open-ended deliberation period in which the agency will consider whether to approve two private detention facilities – run by for-profit corporations in cooperation with the Homeland Security's Immigration & Customs Enforcement division – as licensed residential centers for undocumented children.

The proposed relicensing comes in the wake of an eventful half-year that began in July, when California District Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered that migrant children be released from family detention centers. The conditions, she decided, were in violation of an agreement that barred children from being held in unlicensed facilities. DFPS's response was to convert the two facilities, the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, into licensed child-care centers – though the change would be made in name only, not practice. Local advocacy group Grassroots Leadership won a temporary injunction to stop the relicensing in November to allow for public testimony.

A hearing on the issue occurred Wednesday at the DFPS building on 51st Street. There, people ranging from immigration rights attorneys to women who've spent time in the two facilities spoke to the unseemly conditions and forceful, neglecting oversight provided by facility officials, to convey just how unfit each location is for children. Children are moved around like inventory, many testified, told to learn without anything close to necessary resources. They're separated from their mothers, and often sleep in close proximity to other kids they barely know. Attorney Virginia Ray­mond stressed how child care should be about fostering a "healthy, normal, joyful development" into adulthood. The next person to speak, psychotherapist Satsuki Ina, equated the two facilities to the Japanese internment camp she was born into in 1944.

The hearing lasted nearly four hours and featured 42 speakers – all against the proposed relicensing. As expected, those seated along the dais offered no sort of response. A spokesperson for DFPS said it could be another week or longer before a final count of written testimony is tallied.

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