SB 1018: Denies the dignity of families

Michael Barba

I am testifying against SB 1018 on behalf of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.

Background. The licensing requirements maintained by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) were established in order to ensure the quality of care for children housed in family residential centers. DFPS first established an emergency version of these rules after a July 2015 federal district court ruling that the detention centers violated a previously established standard agreed to by the federal government. Under that agreement, children can only be held in family detention centers if they are licensed by state child welfare agencies. DFPS subsequently established standards that the family detention centers needed to meet in order to become licensed.

DFPS noted that, without such standards, there was “an imminent peril to the public’s health, safety, or welfare.” The regulations, DFPS noted, “ensure the continued protection of children housed in the facilities by making the facilities subject to the regulatory authority of the Child-Care Licensing Division along with its associated requirements.”

If met, DFPS’ requirements would allow the continuation of family detention centers. However, the licensing requirements were challenged in court, and a state district judge found that the requirements violated Texas statute.

As a result, the detention centers at Karnes and Dilley are no longer allowed to detain children. Under SB 1018, DFPS would be allowed to exempt a detention center from minimum licensing standards in order to allow the operation of the facility.

Guidance from the Bishops. We recognize the right and responsibility of a nation to protect and regulate its borders, and enforce immigration law. However, the dignity of migrant families should be respected, and each family must be guaranteed due process under the laws of our nation. We add that due process can be upheld through humane alternatives to detention. In particular, we support allowing the families to live in the community as they are provided necessary services, including legal representation. The Catholic Church already assists in this effort and will continue to do so.

Moreover, in considering family detention, we must ask: why? Why do we feel compelled to place in detention vulnerable individuals—young mothers with children fleeing persecution? In answering this question, we must remember our Texas heritage and the vision of our American founders, who held that the United States should always be “an asylum to the oppressed and the needy of the earth.”

In order to maintain the dignity of families, we oppose this bill because it would allow for the reopening of the family detention centers at Karnes and Dilley.

Catholic Teaching on Immigration. The issue addressed by SB 1018 is an example of the great need in our country for comprehensive immigration reform, which would reform both the laws of admittance and the laws of enforcement.

Good government has two duties, both of which must be carried out and neither of which can be ignored. The first duty is to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person. Persons have the right to immigrate and thus government must accommodate this right to the greatest extent possible, especially financially blessed nations. The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

The second duty is to secure one’s border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good. Sovereign nations have the right to enforce their laws and all persons must respect the legitimate exercise of this right. Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.