The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has issued a rule allowing for the two family detention facilities in Texas to apply for licenses to detain immigrant children and their mothers. This move may have the effect of further entrenching the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s seemingly dogged commitment to continue detaining families, even in the face of strong outrage and opposition from a wide range of groups and individuals. In the months leading up to DFPS’s decision to issue a new rule, immigration advocates, religious groups, and several Texas State Senators advocated against the rule. In fact, DFPS received over 5,000 pages of public letters, emails, comments, and testimony overwhelmingly opposing this move. Even a lawsuit was filed to attempt to block the rule.

DFPS’s decision to issue a new rule for licensing family detention facilities follows a federal judge’s orders in July and August 2015 in the Flores litigation. In that case, the federal court found that the government’s practice of detaining children in secure, unlicensed facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania violated the longstanding Flores settlement. DHS has appealed this ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, claiming that it does not govern the detention of children arriving with their parents. Plaintiffs’ counsel in Flores filed their response to the government’s appeal this week.

The ongoing Flores appeal aside, under the Flores settlement, no minors, accompanied or otherwise, may be legally held in secure, unlicensed facilities. Texas DFPS’s new rule will give the private prison corporations who operate the two family detention facilities in Karnes City and Dilley, Texas, the green light to apply for licenses to operate as childcare facilities. The application process requires a public hearing in each county, and no doubt advocates will be out again in force to protest the issuance of any license which condones and facilitates children being held in jails.

Meanwhile, in Berks County, Pennsylvania, advocates are planning a protest outside the Berks County Residential Center on February 22, the day after the state license for that detention center expires. In a totally opposite move to the state of Texas, Pennsylvania declined to renew the license that permits the Berks detention center to operate as a childcare facility. Berks County, which runs the detention center, has appealed the state agency’s decision. Legally, however, under the Flores settlement, the center in Leesport, PA, should cease detaining families by February 21, 2016, the day the license expires. It is important to note that, licensing aside, all three family detention centers are “secure,” with detained children and their parents unable to come and go freely from the centers.

It remains to be seen whether, legal maneuvers and technicalities aside, the federal government, the states, the counties, and the massive for-profit private prison corporations, GEO and CCA, will take the only morally appropriate step and end the detention of children and their mothers once and for all.

Photo by Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.