In this episode of MintPress News’ ‘Behind the Headline,’ host Mnar Muhawesh interviews Alejandro Caceres, the immigration organizer at Grassroots Leadership, about the mistreatment of migrant children held in private prisons in the Lone Star State.
Update: On May 4, a judge in the 250th District Court granted a temporary restraining order preventing the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services from issuing a childcare license to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. The restraining order lasts until May 13, when the court will evaluate the lawsuit filed by Grassroots Leadership on behalf of two mothers detained with their children.
“Today, we are glad a judge has agreed to halt, at least temporarily, the appalling practice of labeling family prisons as childcare facilities,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership.
MINNEAPOLIS — Two years ago in 2014, photographs showing hundreds of migrant children crammed into tiny cells American migrant facilities leaked onto the Internet.
For many Americans, it was their first glimpse of the treatment of families held in privately-operated, for-profit detention centers in our own backyards.
Reports have described these facilities as freezing cold, unsanitary, overcrowded, and completely lacking in privacy.
These families are fleeing South American countries where they face inhumane conditions at the hands of corrupt governments, organized crime and economic hardships, much of which had been fueled by trade deals like NAFTA.
In a report published last year by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, women described leaving their homes after their children were forced to choose between joining gangs or being killed. Others reported that they faced death if they could not pay massive extortion fees.
Department of Homeland Security officials told The New York Times last year that about 2,600 women and children were being held in one center in Pennsylvania and two centers in Texas, after fleeing state violence in their home country.
In July, a federal judge ordered the release of immigrant children and families held in the Texas facilities. The judge described “widespread deplorable conditions,” and ruled that the state “wholly failed” to provide for their needs in a safe, sanitary environment. And in January, Pennsylvania officials announced that the permit for the state’s only detention center would be revoked.
In September, hoping to circumvent the federal court’s ruling and keep the centers open, Texas announced new “emergency” regulations that allow the Department of Family and Protective Services to certify family detention centers as child care facilities.
But listen to this: Child care regulations being waived include limits on maximum occupancy and rules on sharing bedrooms with unrelated adult.
Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based nonprofit that opposes for-profit prisons, sued Texas over the regulations. Arguing there was no “emergency” allowing the state to waive basic human rights, the nonprofit won a temporary injunction in November. This forced the state to accept public input on the changes. An open records request showed the state received over 5,000 pages of overwhelmingly negative letters and testimony against the proposed rules.
But the state pressed on anyway, and the new rules went into effect on Feb. 12.
In response, immigration reform activists organized a “pop-up day care center” outside the office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Today, I’m joined by Alejandro Caceres, immigration organizer at Grassroots Leadership. I asked him to tell me more about what inspired this unique direct action and what kind of reaction they received.
Watch the full episode of Behind the Headline: