CARA: Government Continues to Undermine Access to Counsel and Due Process for Children and Mothers Seeking Protection in the U.S.

George Tzamaras
Belle Woods

Licensing facilities as childcare centers ignores the reality of conditions

SAN ANTONIO, TX – CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project partners pointed to a growing collection of evidence that the federal government and private prison companies are failing to provide child care adequate to ensure access to counsel and meaningful representation in family detention. This situation substantially increases the risk that legitimate asylum claims will go unheard and that such children and their mothers will be wrongfully deported back to the very dangers they fled. The detention centers provide only a fraction of detained families with access to the Project’s pre-release orientations, which are essential to prepare detained families to meet their case deadlines and comply with their terms of release.

The Project partners urge the state urge the state to revoke the initial license issued by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services for the Karnes County Residential Center, run by the private-prison company GEO Group, and not issue a license for the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, run by Corrections Corporation of America. A hearing on a temporary injunction on licensing the two sites will be held on May 13 at 9:00a.m. Central in Austin, TX.

The CARA Project has repeatedly called attention to the failure of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ensure adequate medical care adequate medical care for detained children and mothers, to the barriers and difficulties faced by indigenous language speaking families in detention indigenous language speaking families in detention, to the inadequacy of the expedited removal process inadequacy of the expedited removal process for traumatized families fleeing violence, as well as the repeated undermining of access to counsel repeated undermining of access to counsel and coercion used in ensuring that families accept electronic ankle monitors upon release rather than pursing a bond hearing before an immigration judge. The most recent information gathered by attorneys and on-the-ground volunteers includes:

  • Of the estimated 1,046 children held in Dilley in April, 96 were infants and toddlers under the age of 2. While the overall population of children tripled between January and April, the number of children under age 2 increased by 3,100 percent during that time.
  • Limitations placed on the number of infants and toddlers allowed in the detention center nursery at any one time require mothers with nursing babies and very young children to discuss intimate details of past persecution and abuse with volunteer attorneys while simultaneously caring for infants and small children. Similarly the daycares at both facilities close hours in advance of final meetings with attorneys, creating significant barriers to meaningful access to counsel.
  • The management at Dilley continues to deny repeated requests from the Project for a larger space in which to administer twice-weekly pre-release informational sessions. With more than 160 mothers signed up to attend a given session, the room’s capacity of less than 50, combined with the nursery’s limited capacity to accept children makes it impossible to provide vital information about the rights and responsibilities of an asylum-seeker.

CARA Project Managing Attorney at Dilley Katie Shepherd said she is appalled at the idea of licensing these centers. “Time and time again we have faced challenges with simply providing legal representation and services to these asylum-seeking families whom the government insists on holding in detention. The current issues we face with the increase in infants and toddlers held in detention and the lack of adequate childcare provided for women preparing for critical legal junctures in their cases underscore how inappropriate and counter-productive detention of these families is.”

She continued, “Licensing these facilities is an obvious and inadequate effort to bring the government into compliance with Judge Dolly Gee’s ruling in the Flores case that family detention as practiced by the administration could not continue. Anyone who spends time in the Dilley or Karnes detention centers knows that they are no place for children. No matter what sort of certificate and seal of approval given by the Department of Family and Protective Services, these facilities are prisons, and are nowhere a child should be confined.”

Manoj Govindaiah, Director of Family Detention Services for RAICES, who directs the pro bono project at Karnes said: “These detention centers are operated by for-profit private prison companies to hold children in secure custody for ICE. They are not designed to provide for children’s welfare. Licensing them under watered-down state standards does not make the centers accountable for the safety and well-being of the children.”

He continued: “Instead, licensing condones the detention of families, who are simply trying to pursue their claims for protection under our laws. The care offered at these detention centers does not meet the needs of these families. Closing the centers altogether is what is needed. We will continue to document the harm suffered by children and mothers detained at these centers. We will make sure the voices of these families are heard.”

Press inquiries, please contact:

AILA: Belle Woods,, 202-507-7675
Council: Wendy Feliz,, 202-507-7524
RAICES: Mohammad Abdollahi,, 210-544-7811
CLINIC: Patricia Zapor,, 301-565-4830


The CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project is a partnership of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), the American Immigration Council (Council), Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), that provides legal representation and undertakes advocacy on behalf of mothers and children held in federal family detention centers.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 16051203.