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Texas Releases Hundreds of Women and Children From Immigration Detention

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 07, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Following a district court ruling saying two Texas immigrant detention facilities were unsuitable for housing children and families, the state released over 400 women and children from custody, essentially dumping them at their attorneys' door in the middle of the night.

Busloads of detainees, most of whom migrated from Central American countries and are seeking asylum, were delivered to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) in San Antonio over the weekend, after a judge ruled that the license under which the two facilities operated "runs counter to the general objectives of the Texas Human Resources Code and is, therefore, invalid."

Detention or Child Care?

The trouble for the Texas detention centers started last year when U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled a federal family detention policy violated a prior court settlement favoring the release of undocumented children, and required them to be housed, if they must be, in the least restrictive setting possible. In response, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services redefined "child care facility" to make it possible for two detention centers to qualify: the public, state-run Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, and the federal, privately run South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley.

But Karnes and Dilley detention centers would need to make significant changes even to qualify as child care facilities under previously established Texas law. Currently, the centers were holding multiple families together in a single unit, violating a general practice of prohibiting children from housed with unrelated adults. Also, presence at a licensed child care facility is essentially optional and kids may check out if they wish. But children at the Karnes or Dilley detention centers cannot leave unless ICE or an immigration judge releases them.

Freedom to Go, No Place to Stay

Therefore, Travis County District Court Judge Karin Crump invalidated both facilities' licenses in a ruling on Friday, which critics of the detention policies saw as the motivating factor behind the release of 470 mothers and children on Saturday. Amy Fischer, policy director at RAICES, says the center, which provides legal services to immigrants, was given little notice before the women and children arrived on their doorstep. "They were shoved out in a really rushed manner," Fischer told the Los Angeles Times. "There was no information as to why. Deportation officers said, 'We're bringing a bus.'"

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