Five days after a childcare license was awarded to two federal immigration detention centers, a judge in Austin granted a temporary restraining order on Wednesday evening to stop further licensing. This move was spurred by immigration activists protesting a Texas decision which grants licenses to what they call “baby jails.”
Luis Zayas, a psychologist and social worker at the University of Texas in Karnes called the new licenses “an extraordinary manipulation of the rules of child welfare. Sure, they put up nice children’s playgrounds and things; it’s still a prison.”
“Stern, unfriendly guards led me and my fellow visitors through locked doors to the visitation room after requiring us to leave all our belongings, including art supplies and writing materials, in lockers outside,” said Satsuki Ina, a psychotherapist, while describing complexes in Dilley and Karnes. “During my visit, I met with six families who had been held for varying lengths of time. Aside from the intense anxiety, depressed mood, and grief expressed by the mothers, I noticed significant signs of what I would consider captivity trauma of the children.”
The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), has been protecting its choice of granting licenses, although the department had previously taken the position that regulating the centers was not within its purview. However, after a case decision criticizing the conditions of one of the facilities, the department found itself regulating these family detention centers with already overextended resources, believing that their scrutiny will improve safety and quality of care in the centers.
A DFPS inspection of Karnes on 29 March revealed six deficiencies in the facility. Five of the issues had been verified as corrected on 22 April. The initial license was issued a week later and will be renewed if the facilities comply with minimum standards as required.
However, the DFPS created a special rule for the centers which lowers its usual minimum standards and allows adults and children of opposite genders to share rooms. While critics state this makes the centers intrinsically unsuitable as childcare facilities, the department claims the changes help keep families together.