Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Protest calls for closure of T. Don Hutto

By Leah Fillion

Organizers planning a two-day walk to address county

Following a walk from Heritage Park downtown to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a small group of protesters gathered Saturday to speak out against the detainment of immigrants and their children at the facility.

This was the first vigil following a settlement late August in a lawsuit against the federal government that callled for improved living conditions for immigrant children being detained at T. Don Hutto.

The 512-bed facility, owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America, was remodeled and reopened in May 2006 under contract to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service as a detention center for families seeking asylum.

Jose Orta, a Taylor resident and member of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said that while the settlement has brought some improvements to the living conditions of the inmates, he and others will continue to gather in protest every month until there are no children held there.

“I think things are better (since the settlement)... but ultimately the issue is that children are still in prison,” he said.

Antonio Diaz with the Free the Children Coalition in San Antonio said one improvement is that activists will be allowed into the facility but the criteria around the agreement it is still uncertain. He hopes that this will enable an open dialogue between CCA and activists concerning to detainment of immigrants.

Orta said one alternative to detainment could be the use of ankle bracelets. Orta said it costs $7,300 per person each month at full capacity to detain someone. An ankle bracelet would cost $600 per person each month and would allow immigrants to work within the community and their children to attend public schools.

“These people have not committed crimes,” Orta said. “They shouldn't be held like prisoners.”

But the ultimate hope, he said, would be to see the facility shut down. That is why, on Oct. 16, protesters from several grassroots organizations will be walking from the facility to Georgetown to address the commissioners of Williamson County.

Williamson County and CCA have a lease agreement in which the county agrees to subcontract facility operations to CCA. In exchange, CCA receives payment of about $2.8 million from ICE to house up to 512 inmates. The county also receives an administrative fee of $1 per inmate held at the facility.

The county signed a two-year contract with CCA, which will expire in January 2009. Orta said the protesters will request that the county end its contract with CCA as soon as possible.

“Without the contract with the county, CCA will be in limbo,” Orta said. “It is my hope that if we continue to protest, we can (convince the commissioners to) end the contract and shut them down,” Orta said.

Click here for link to original article.