Texas appeals ruling that bans license for detention centers

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DALLAS (AP) — The Texas attorney general on Monday appealed a judge's ruling that prevents state officials from issuing child care licenses to two federal detention centers in South Texas holding families that have illegally entered the U.S.

Attorney General Ken Paxton's office filed the appeal in an effort to have the Department of Family and Protective Services license the facilities as residential child-care centers. The licenses are needed because a federal judge ruled last year the centers would have to eventually release the immigrant children if they didn't get licensed.

State District Judge Karin Crump on Friday ruled the department cannot issue the licenses. Crump's ruling did not offer an explanation for her decision, but she had previously issued an injunction against the licenses from being issued, determining at one point that the state agency had improperly fast-tracked changes to create a path for the facilities to get licensed.

One of the centers is in Dilley, about 70 miles southwest of San Antonio; the other in Karnes City, some 50 miles southeast of San Antonio.

The attorney general's office didn't return a phone call Monday from The Associated Press seeking an explanation for the appeal. The office earlier this year argued that state licensing improves safety because it requires the facilities to submit to unannounced inspections and background check requirements. The state's review of the Karnes facility resulted in the firing of five workers for problems in their backgrounds, according to the office.

The two family detention centers opened in 2014 in response to the arrival of tens of thousands of mothers and children from Central America. The license approval for the Karnes City facility came as apprehensions of unaccompanied immigrant children along the United States' southwest border increased by 78 percent from Oct. 1, 2015, through March 31 compared with the same period a year earlier, and the number of apprehensions of families more than doubled.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts with two private firms to operate the detention complexes.

The lawsuit that brought Crump's ruling was filed by Austin-based activist group Grassroots Leadership, which contends the facilities are prisons that are inappropriate for family detention and that minimum standards have been lowered to license them. The group's director, Bob Libal, said Monday that it's part of broader legal efforts to have federal officials adhere to a longtime agreement that called for children and their families to be held only for a short time before being released to family, friends or others while their cases are decided.

"Evidence is continuing to mount that not only is the detention immoral but it's also illegal," Libal said.

ICE is reviewing the ruling, spokesman Carl Rusnok said in a statement. "Operational activities continue without interruption at this time," he said.

Hundreds of women and children were released over the weekend from the Dilley facility, formally known as the South Texas Family Residential Center, but ICE said the release was part of normal operations and not in response to Crump's ruling.

The company that operates the Karnes City center, GEO Group, said in a statement to the San Antonio Express-News that the lawsuit brought by Grassroots Leadership is without merit.

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