A top operator of private prisons is requesting the Texas legislature to license its facilities to hold children due for deportation alongside their parents.
Citing studies which show that holding children alongside their parents eases the psychological burden of incarceration, GEO Group is petitioning Texas lawmakers to introduce legislation allowing the practice.
GEO Group is one of the largest operators of private prisons in the United States. In 2014, it opened the Karnes Residential Center some 60 miles south of San Antonio. Intended to hold entire families due for deportation, its inmate were kept for months at a time pending judgments.
Later in the year, long after the Texas Department of Family Protective Services granted Karnes a license to hold children, the facility was sued. Advocates said detention centers holding juveniles for immigration offenses causes psychological and physical harm.
Now the GEO Group and its cohorts are trying to reform the system so they can qualify for the childcare licenses mandated by federal judges for non-secure juvenile detention centers.
The New York Times reports that the state representative who introduced the bill, Republican John Raney, was given the text by a GEO Group lobbyist.
“I’ve known this lady who’s their lobbyist for a long time… That’s where the legislation comes from,” Raney explained. “We don’t make things up. People bring things to us and ask us to help.”
Raney and the GEO Group’s efforts towards reform are somewhat in line with the White House’s official stance. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has said that parents and children caught illegally crossing the border with Mexico will generally be allowed to stay together until deportation can be arranged. Exceptions would be made unless the “situation at the time requires it,” giving examples of incidents in which a mother might be ill or addicted to drugs.
The detention of entire families of would-be illegal immigrants is a practice which was adopted by the Obama administration in an effort to deter crossings from Mexico. However, the Times notes advocates are generally opposed to the practice. They say families seeking asylum, for instance, should be released and allowed to obtain the necessary legal resources to pursue their claims.
Critics of the Raney and his lobbyist’s proposal say changing the law would put children into unsafe and inappropriate environments. They believe GEO Group and its private prison partners would do little to improve conditions and make their facilities suitable for children.
The Times spoke with a woman named Suyapa, who had brought her children with her from Honduras. They were detained in February and sent to Karnes Residential Center.
“A jail isn’t a school,” she said of the facility. Suyapa didn’t want the Times to use her last name, given a pending asylum case. “My son got sick and turned yellow, and they said the doctor didn’t have time to see my child.”