Texas Detention Centers Violate Federal Law Against Holding Minors

The state’s family detention centers are holding children for longer than the 20-day federal limit.

By Jill AmentJune 1, 2017 1:25 pm

While Texas lawmakers have left the state Capitol for now, plenty of their bills did not go anywhere. One piece of legislation that didn’t make it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk was a measure that would have licensed immigrant detention facilities in Texas as childcare providers.

This was an effort to avoid a federal rule requiring these centers to not hold minors for more than 20 days.

Yet, Texas detention centers are holding some families far longer than allowed by law.

Meredith Hoffman, a reporter for the Associated Press, points to the example of the Hakimi family.

Samira Hakimi made headlines when she attempted suicide in May at Karnes County Residential Center, in an attempt to free her two young children from detention. The family has been detained since December, when they crossed into Texas from Mexico to seek asylum.

“It was really too much [for Samira],” Hoffman says. “The family had fled the Taliban because in Afghanistan they had been operating schools with a western-style curriculum and having scholarships for both boys and girls.”

This legislation, which passed the Senate but failed to make it out of the House, would have allowed Texas’ health department to waive minimum child care licensing standards for Karnes and the South Texas Family Residential Center.

“Advocates say this piece of legislation was intended to prolong the lawful stays of families in detention,” Hoffman says.

Hoffman says the bill’s authors said the legislation would ensure that detention centers have state oversight, but pediatricians and child welfare advocates testified that holding children in detention causes severe psychological and even physical trauma.

Hoffman says this year at least seven families, including the Hakimis, have been held in Texas facilities longer than the 20-day federal limit.

Samira Hakimi had her asylum hearing in early May, and the family is awaiting the decision. Hoffman says they will be released from Karnes if they receive asylum.

Written by Molly Smith.