AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – The Texas Senate advanced a bill on Tuesday that would allow the detention of more immigrant families by licensing federal detention centers as child care facilities, a move that critics fear would create so-called “baby jails.”
Written and advocated for by Geo Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison company, Senate Bill 1018 loosens requirements in Texas immigration detention centers that ordinarily apply to child-care facilities licensed by the state.
The legislation says the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services “shall license a family residential center in the same manner as the department licenses a general residential operation.”
The bill cleared its first hurdle in the Republican-controlled Senate this week on a 20-11 party-line vote, with all Republicans supporting the legislation, and Democrats calling it harmful to children and a rubber stamp to creating “baby jails.”
“SB 1018 benefits the two for-profit prison corporations by legitimizing their operations in Texas at the expense of mothers and children,” said State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, a Democrat from El Paso. “This latest attack on immigrants goes against our values as Texans and Americans.”
Texas is home to two of the nation’s three family detention centers, the largest of which is in Dilley and holds about 2,400 immigrant detainees. The third facility is in Pennsylvania.
Last year, a federal judge ruled against the state’s attempt to allow the Department of Family and Protective Services to license facilities in Karnes City and Dilley as child care centers.
The Senate bill, which heads next to the Texas House, would override that ruling.