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Request to Texas to Shut Down Unlawful Dilley Children Jail

Below is a request we recently sent to Texas State authorities to shut down the secure detention facility for children known as the South Texas Family Residential Center (“STFRC.”)

In researching the law, it became clear that Texas prohibits the placement of children under the age of 10 in secure detention facilities. STFRC detains children ranging from a few months old and up.

STFRC is subject to the jurisdiction of child welfare authorities in Texas. Therefore, Texas authorities are obligated to shut down the STFRC.

We also intend to write similar requests to shut down the Karnes  County and Berks County Residential Centers.

Dear Sir/Madam:

I am an attorney who represents a mother and a child who were detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center (“STFRC”) located at 1925 West Highway 85, Dilley, Texas 78017, which is owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (“CCA.”)

CCA is contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) to detain children as young as just a few months old to 17 years of age.

I respectfully request that the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (“TJJP”) and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (“DFPS”) immediately close the South Texas Family Residential Center because it is not licensed or certified to provide care and custody of children by Texas State authorities, or any other authority.

The STFRC is a secure detention facility, which is defined as “any public or private residential facility that: A. includes construction fixtures designed to physically restrict the movements and activities of juveniles or other individuals held in lawful custody in the facility.; and (B) is used for the temporary placement of any juvenile who is accused of having committed an offense, any nonoffender (emphasis added.)” See Texas Family Code § 51.02(14).

Pursuant to Texas Family Code § 51.03(e-1)(1), children under 10 years of age are prohibited from being placed in a secure detention facility.

STFRC is a secure detention facility because the facility is constructed to severely restrict the movements and activities of the children and adults held there. For example, guards and locked doors in the facility prohibit residents from leaving its premises.

Further, CCA and ICE control every aspect of a child’s life in its custody, including what a child eats; what, if any, medical care a child receives; what, if any, recreational activities the child partakes in; what hours the child is permitted to sleep; or what education the child is provided.

The fact that children in STFRC are accompanied by at least one parent does not negate the fact that CCA and ICE are the primary caregivers for the children in their custody.

A mother is completely stripped of her authority to make decisions in the care of her child. If a mother, for example, believes her child is depressed due to being detained, she is barred from making the clear decision that is in the child’s best interests—to have the child released from detention.

The South Texas Family Residential Facility Also Violates Section 4000 of the Texas Child Protective Services Handbook And 42  U.S.C. § 675

Although the STFRF is a secure detention facility, it also violates child protective services rules for the care and custody of children under the age of 10 in residential centers, which is any “facility that is licensed to provide foster care for 13 or more children at a time.”

Unless exceptional circumstances are present, residential centers are not recommended for placement of children. In fact, CPS “does not place children under five in group-care facilities unless doing so represents the only way to meet a particular child’s special needs.”

The Texas Family Code and CPS guidelines prohibit the placement of young children in severely restrictive settings because it is harmful to their physical and mental health. As evidence of this, all States in the United States prohibit the detention of children under a certain age in secure detention facilities.

Even when a child is placed in a more restrictive setting, such as a group home, federal law requires that “each child has a case plan designed to achieve placement in a safe setting that is the least restrictive (most family like) and most appropriate setting available… consistent with the best interest and special needs of the child…” See 42 U.S.C. 675 of the Social Security Act.

Given that STFRC is in violation of Texas Family Code § 51.03(e-1)(1),  Section 4000 of the CPS Handbook and 42 U.S.C. § 675, the State of Texas must close down the facility immediately. CCA and ICE cannot obtain licensing or certification for STFRC because its purpose—to detain children under the age of 10 directly and to detain all children against their best interests—is in clear violation of both Texas State Law and Federal Law on the custody and care of children.

Indefinite, Long-Term Detention of Children in an Unlicensed, Secure Detention Facility For Purposes of Deportation From The United States Is Harmful to The Physical and Mental Health of Children

The case of our client Bernice illustrates why the operation of STFRC is so harmful to the children detained there.

Bernice, a young mother, was detained with her 4-year-old daughter in STFRC since late December of 2014 until March of 2015.

Bernice was eligible for release upon payment of a $5000 bond issued by an immigration judge in mid-February. She did not have the funds to pay for the $5000 bond.

When she requested a redetermination of the bond with ICE, she hoped the bond would be lowered so that she could be released from detention with her young daughter.

When she learned that ICE would not lower her bond, she attempted suicide. Her daughter was then and placed in temporary foster care near San Antonio, Texas, and ICE transferred the mother to an adult detention center in Laredo, Texas.

The 4 year old girl’s best interests were severely compromised due to ICE detaining her and her mom for a prolonged period of time. Her mother would never have attempted suicide if it were not for the desperation she felt for herself and her daughter. She could have lost her mother forever.

The doctor at the hospital told Bernice that she was mentally healthy and that her attempted suicide was a result of a temporary shock.

The fact that ICE controls the custody determination of children detained in the facility does not make it exempt from Texas State Law. STFRC must comply with the laws of the State where it operates.

ICE cannot operate STFRC because it is prohibited by Texas law.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. If you should have any questions, please contact me at 631-647-9701.

Very Truly Yours,

Bryan S. Johnson, Esq.

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