Siding with immigrant mothers, the Texas Supreme Court on Friday, June 17th, revived a lawsuit challenging a state rule that allowed two immigration detention centers to house asylum-seeking families in the same bedroom with unrelated adults and children.
The high court rejected a ruling by the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals, which tossed out the lawsuit in 2018 after determining that a group of immigrant mothers and the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership lacked standing to sue because they did not show that they were harmed by the rule.
On the contrary, the Supreme Court said, the mothers alleged “concrete” injuries — including a probable risk of harm and privacy violations — that should allow their legal case to continue.
“The plaintiffs have alleged that at least one detained child was sexually assaulted by an unrelated adult with whom she shared a room,” the Supreme Court said in an unsigned opinion. “Based on this concrete allegation, the plaintiffs allege harm in the form of increased risk of such assaults to minor detainees sharing rooms with unrelated adults, as well as the invasion of the children’s privacy from such room-sharing.”
The ruling returned the case to the 3rd Court of Appeals to determine a central question: Was state District Judge Karin Crump of Travis County correct when she invalidated the rule that allowed unrelated families to share bedrooms at detention facilities in the South Texas cities of Dilley and Karnes?
“The (Supreme) Court made the unremarkable conclusion that having children share bedrooms with unrelated adults poses a danger,” said Jerome Wesevich, a lawyer for the immigrant mothers with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. “We think it’s a pretty basic question about what is appropriate care for children, and that seemed to bother the Supreme Court.”
More importantly, Wesevich said, the 3rd Court can now examine a deeper question about the legality of detaining children for longer periods as a way of deterring other asylum-seeking parents from bringing children to the United States.
“Underlying that is the question of, is it always harmful to children to be detained unnecessarily? This decision opens that issue” for a future ruling, he said.
The legal controversy began in 2015 when a federal judge blocked the two immigration detention centers from holding asylum-seeking families because they didn’t have child care licenses, prompting Texas officials to adopt a new licensing rule that granted an exception to a rule against housing unrelated people in the same bedroom.
After several immigrant mothers, Grassroots Leadership, and a day care operator sued, Crump declared the rule invalid in December 2016, saying state law banned the practice, and the matter moved into an extended journey through the appeals courts.
The case now returns to the 3rd Court of Appeals which has undergone significant changes. The three Republican justices who tossed out the immigrant mothers’ lawsuit in 2018 are no longer on the court, where Democrats now hold five of the six seats.