More than 400 women and children were released from two Texas immigration detention centers over the weekend, after they were found to be holding families in violation of Texas law.
“They were shoved out in a really rushed manner,” Amy Fischer, policy director at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), told the Los Angeles Times.
The 460 immigrants were bused to a RAICES facility in San Antonio.
They came from the only two detention centers in the state – the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City and the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley – that have been licensed to hold children, but a state District Court judge, Karin Crump, on Friday invalidated those licenses.
However, according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) interviewed by the Times, the release was not related to Crump’s order but and part of regular operations.
RAICES, which helps migrants navigate the immigration court system, wasn’t equipped to house the large number of people that were sent from Karnes and Dilley. Local churches and a Mennonite convent helped put people up, and some migrants were sent to family and sponsors in other parts of the U.S.
According to the Times, RAICES personnel said it was the largest number of people released at one time from those centers that anyone could remember.
“There was no information as to why,” Fischer told the paper.
According to the Times, one female migrant who was released was suffering from an untreated leg infection and was taken to a hospital.
Attorney General Ken Paxton's office filed an appeal in an effort to make stand the Department of Family and Protective Services license of 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 them.
Judge Crump ruled the department cannot issue the licenses without offering an explanation for her decision, saying only that “runs counter to the general objectives of the Texas Human Resources Code and is, therefore, invalid.”
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.
Neither Karnes nor Dilley were built to hold children, and ICE and the private firms that operate the facilities have struggled to retro-fit them to that use ever since the number of women and children from Central America caught entering at the border without documentation rose dramatically in 2014.
ICE is reviewing the ruling, spokesman Carl Rusnok said in a statement. "Operational activities continue without interruption at this time," he said.
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.
Includes reporting by the Associated Press.