Texas Admits Family Detention Licenses Are Unlawful
Comment: One commenter argued that DFPS’ regulation of FRCs was unlawful and without authority because the FRCs violate state laws regarding the detention of juveniles. The commenter argued that the Texas Family Code offers a “robust series of statutes that specifically prohibit, and even criminalize placement of certain children in secure detention facilities.” The commenter documented reasons why the FRCs should be considered secure detention facilities, including the use of techniques such as isolation as punishment, the existence of high walls, restrictions on movement, and so forth. The commenter then argued that because they are secure detention facilities where children are held, the FRCs, and any licensure of those FRCs, violates Texas laws regarding juvenile offenders. Specifically, the commenter asserts both that DFPS lacks statutory authority for and that DFPS is explicitly banned from licensure of the FRCs, though for the latter point no particular authority is cited. The rule, per the commenter, is without legal authority because children in the FRCs may be detained beyond statutory time frames and in contravention of other restrictions in Chapter 51 of the Texas Family Code (TFC), and because the children are never adjudicated in front of a Texas juvenile court but are being housed to enforce deportation laws, in contravention of TFC §54.011(f). Further, the commenter suggested that DFPS’ licensure effectively aids in the commission of a Class B misdemeanor under the same statutory provision of TFC §54.011. The commenter explained that Texas juvenile detention laws prohibit the secure detention of children under the age of ten. Finally, after arguing that DFPS has no authority to regulate the centers as child-care facilities, the commenter concluded that DFPS was obligated to immediately order the FRCs to cease operation because they have been operating without such a license for more than one year pursuant to CCL’s enabling chapter.
Response: The commenter’s arguments related to the TFC are misplaced. As noted in materials attached by the commenter, the chapters of the TFC in question relate to facilities operated by or on behalf of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department or on behalf of a juvenile board in the state of Texas. They do not govern federal facilities, including the FRCs under discussion in this rule promulgation. To the commenter’s point that DFPS should immediately order the FRCs to cease operation as unlicensed facilities, DFPS has not previously issued regulatory guidance regarding the FRCs’ status and to take enforcement action against the operators of the FRCs would in all likelihood violate the Administrative Procedure Act, Chapter 2001 of the Texas Government Code, in addition to being patently unjust. DFPS declines to take any such action on the basis of a previously nonexistent regulatory pronouncement.