Editorials

Texas detention centers need watchful eye

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Elementary-aged children talk about a short story in Spanish during a class at the Karnes County Residential Center, a temporary home for immigrant women and children detained at the border in Karnes City.
Elementary-aged children talk about a short story in Spanish during a class at the Karnes County Residential Center, a temporary home for immigrant women and children detained at the border in Karnes City. AP

Two private South Texas detention centers, where about 2,000 Central American immigrant women and children are being held, apparently have a long way to go before they could be seen as minimally adequate places for kids.

That’s the gist of Wednesday’s testimony in Austin, where Texas Department of Family and Protective Services officials held a four-hour licensing hearing focused on the facilities in Dilley and Karnes City.

The immigrant women and children are part of a surge of people who were apprehended after crossing the border illegally during the summer of 2014. They’re being held pending immigration hearings to decide whether they can stay in the U.S. or be sent home.

The Department of Family and Protective Services has a huge and thankless task. Its officials say they are trying to bring the facilities under their regulatory control over child-care facilities, conduct periodic inspections and enforce minimum child safety and welfare standards.

They attempted to accomplish that under emergency procedures that would skip the public hearing process, but a state district judge in Austin blocked that move last month.

A federal judge ruled earlier this year that the children were being held in “deplorable” conditions.

The Texas Tribune reported that Virginia Raymond, an Austin-based immigration attorney, said at Wednesday’s hearing the centers aren’t even close to proper child-care facilities.

“It’s an insult to child-care workers, and it’s an insult to the common sense of the people of Texas, to call detention centers child care,” she said.

Greg Hansch, public policy director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Texas, said mothers and children in the facilities “commonly show symptoms of anxiety, depression, and feelings of despair,” the Tribune reported.

Last year’s immigration surge was a crisis, spurring then-Gov. Rick Perry to send state guard troops, Department of Public Safety officers and other state law enforcement personnel to guard the border and stop illegal crossings.

That emergency effort turned into a long-term state force at the border.

The surge did not repeat this summer. The issue now is the conditions under which these women and children are held.

While it’s good that a formal regulatory process is taking place, it’s also a shame that it has taken this long. The Department of Family and Protective Services has no time to waste in exerting proper control.

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