Friday, December 26, 2008

Taylor Daily Press: The T. Don Hutto Question

Philip Jankowski weighed different sides of the T. Don Hutto controversy--jobs, county revenue, and the morality of detaining potential citizens-- in the Taylor Daily Press on Monday:

Today county higher ups will make their most controversial annual decision: whether or not to continue the operation of T. Don Hutto Residential Facility.

The facility draws lines in this community between those who support the detention of those who enter the country illegally and those appalled that our government would keep children in a prison.

In its third year in Taylor, the former medium-security prison is now a lightning rod for the ACLU, who accuses the facility of violating immigrants’ civil rights, and LULAC, who seeks to defend the rights of a prison population whose vast majority is Hispanic or Latino.

It is not my place to pass judgement on the facility or the policies that brought it into existence. Each side’s argument holds merit.

America is a nation of immigrants. Our economy relies on the low-cost labor of illegal immigrants. How can we hold these people behind bars?

Yet with the challenges of a country that faces psychotic insurgents hell bent on causing destruction inside our borders, how can we not detain those who enter it illegally?

Locally, the question of revenue comes to mind. The facility brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue for the city and the school district. It provides well paid jobs for unskilled workers. Corrections Corporation of America has offered continued annual raises to Hutto employees at wages that are more than competitive with typical jobs that do not require a college degree.

But is the financial upside nothing more than selling our morals one tax dollar at a time?

No matter what you call it, T. Don Hutto is a prison. It has 12-foot fences strung with razor-sharp barbed wire. And it is designed for families. Not criminals. Not one immigrant currently housed there is guilty of any other crime than wanting to be an American.

To its credit, the facility has made improvements over its dubious beginnings. It has been redecorated to appear more kid friendly. Detainee turnaround has reduced greatly. Yet some of those improvements were the result of a law suit filed by the ACLU and The University of Texas Law School.

The current freedoms of the facility should have been in place at its opening. Government should not have been forced into treating these children ethically, it should have led the way.

And since then, the facility has continued to linger ominously. Immigrations Custom Enforcement continues to keep security as tight as a snare drum. Reporters are let in once annually.

Even when rarely blessed with positive press, the facility remained closed. In one instance I had a heated back and forth to get in and take a bland and benign photo of a former employee who painted cartoon caricatures on the cinder block walls. In the end, a staff member of the prison ended up taking that photo. It was pretty bad.

Maybe it’s the reporter in me, but the more I’m kept out of a place, the more I feel like something is going on inside that ICE does not want people to see.

Regardless, I do not envy the decision commissioners make today. I expect scores of protesters and people to curse the commissioners’ decision, whatever it is.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Media Coverage of Dec. 20 Toy Delivery

December 24, 2008: The Williamson County Sun* gave extensive front page coverage of Saturday's Toy Drive, including interviews with former detainees who have received asylum and now live in the United States. As you can see from the pictures, hundreds of toys were delivered. But as Denia Borjas points out, received donated toys pales in comparison to receiving gifts from family in the comfort and safety of a home.

The article also notes some of CCA's intimidation tactics--driving past protestors at high speeds, filming the protest, and the inspection of toys prior to delivery. According to the article, there is still some doubt about whether the detainees would receive the toys. If you have information regarding toy delivery, please share it with us...

Thank you to each and all who donated. Please continue to support the closing of Hutto in our "100 events in the first hundred days" campaign! (Check this blog for more information on that in the coming weeks, and contact us if you would like to schedule a film screening, vigil, forum, letter writing, or other event.)

*There is no online version of this article available... please click on the image to view and download a scanned version of the article.

December 22, 2008: New America Media's Roberto Lavalo gives us some "Hope for the Holidays" that begins with the Hutto toy delivery and vigil last Saturday, recounts the Chicago Republic Window factory occupation, and ends with workers' protests for backpay at a San Francisco poultry processings plant. Interviewing Grassroots Leadership's Luissana Santibañez, he writes...

One of the many measures of the hardness of our times can be found in South Texas, where even the simple act of bringing Christmas cheer to children can sometimes require more than just a spirit of charity. In some cases, it often requires the kind of stonecutter's determination one finds in a (Charles) Dickens tale, the determination of someone like Luissana Santinbañez.
"The fact that we're able to bring these toys to children is a huge victory. It took an incredible amount of struggle" says Santibañez, a 25 year-old San Antonio resident who is one of the organizers of a toy drive for children detained along with their immigrant parents behind the concrete walls and barbed wire fences of the T. Don Hutto Detention Center.

"We only got to deliver these toys as a result of lots of litigation and many protests" she says adding "We got to do this because of the community outcry about what's going on behind the walls of those privately-run immigrant detention centers: children and families living in horrific conditions –the lack of medical treatment, the bathrooms without soap, the food with cockroaches, the people dying in detention, the suicides. We can't let them be so cruel to kids; We can't let them hide this."

The "we" Santibañez mentions includes a very broad and diverse group of people of numerous religious, racial, ethnic and class backgrounds, many of whom had never been involved in immigrant rights or any other activism.

The determination exemplified by Santibañez, who got involved in immigrant detention issues after her mother, a former permanent resident detained and eventually deported for allegedly transporting undocumented immigrants, is spreading across the entire country; It mirrors how the plight of immigrants in the United States has given rise to a different kind of hope, a hope rising out of the darkly fertile soil of very hard times.

"I'm committed to this because of people like my mother," she says, her throat trembling with conviction as she also describes how she and her four siblings must rely on one another now that they are "left without a mother." In a country facing colossal challenges – poverty and economic divisions not seen since the Great Depression, fabulous political and corporate corruption surpassing anything seen during the Gilded Age, panic and fear of epic proportions – immigrant stories in the United States are inspiring people around the world.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Austin American-Statesman: Commissioners to Vote on Hutto

The Austin American-Statesman's David Doolittle covered the upcoming vote his WillCo blog Thursday and in the paper Friday.  

Friday's version includes statements from Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) spokesperson Steve Owen, who said that "if the contract is not renewed, families could be split apart waiting for hearings."  First of all, CCA does not make immigration policy, ICE does. The threat of separation has been used throughout the debate about Hutto, to frame the debate as nothing but Hutto-versus-separation.  Second, ICE has a range of less restrictive options at its disposal, funded by Congress, that allow families to live in relative peace and dignity for decisions on their immigration and asylum status.  If ICE were to separate families now, it would go against direct orders from Congress, against the stated intention of the agency, and against regulations that privilege "release to family members" over family separation.  In fact, the other family detention facility in Berks County, Pennsylvania, is far less prison-like and has avoided most (not all) of the problems and controversies surrounding Hutto. 

As the mediator on this contract, it is up to Williamson County to decide whether it wants to have this kind of business on its conscience.  Both detention and family separation traumatize children, and it is time to focus on whether it is morally acceptable for Williamson County residents and CCA investors to profit off of the misfortune of others.  

According to Doolittle, County Judge Gattis and Commissioner Ron Morrison have already decided in favor of renewing the contract--unless "something jumps up and bites" them--but Commissioners Birkman and Covey are undecided.  The commissioners will tour the facility again on Monday.  All of them seemed to sense a sea change with the new administration, and are unsure how this will affect family detention at Hutto.  

The primary difference seems to be between (1) those that favor renewing the contract and seeing what happens with Obama and Napolitano; and (2) those who question why they should renew if a new administration will change the direction of immigration policy.  Unstated, but clearly implied, is an assumption that the Obama administration won't like family detention policy, and that they would gladly let it lapse into obscurity with the rest of the Bush Administration's questionable uses of executive power.  

The next few days are very important for the future of family detention at Hutto.  Let's be the thing that "jumps up and bites" Williamson County Commissioners and pushed them in a new direction.  Let them know that detention is traumatic for families and reflects poorly on the county.
Judge Dan Gattis: (512) 943-1550,
Ron Morrison: (512) 846-1190

Lisa Birkman: (512) 733-5380,
Cynthia Long: (512) 260-4280
Valerie Covey:(512) 943-3370

Press Release: T. Don Hutto Contract Risky Business

12/18/2008   Press Release:  T Don Hutto Contract Risky Business

Opponents to the T Don Hutto prison for non-criminal immigrant families and children located in Taylor, Texas, have consistently protested its basic inhumane conception and operation.  The United States’ Congress has ordered that non-criminal immigrant families awaiting disposition of requests for citizenship applications and/or asylum be detained in the “least restrictive” manner possible.  T Don Hutto is a former medium-security prison that fails this standard, they maintain.  Additionally, the lack of any governmental oversight for T Don Hutto has lead to documented abuse, including the sexual assault of a female prisoner by her guard, in the presence of her young child. 

With the dramatic decline in the American economy, and a major change in the political climate, opponents point out that Williamson County Commissioners Court (WCCC) should refuse to renew its contractual role in that operation on the grounds that it is a risky business deal.  The prison is owned and run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), funded (at a cost of nearly $3 million per month) by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), on a pass-through contract with WCCC, in which the County is paid $1 per day per prisoner for its role as “contract administrator,” potentially amounting to around $15,000 per month at capacity.


Opponents contend that CCA is no longer a strong business partner, given the almost certain decline of funds available for this costly approach; effective alternatives are available at a fraction of the cost of running T Don Hutto. Growth of immigrant detention had previously been assumed to assure CCA a strong financial future; that assumption, according to opponents, no longer is reliable.  Recent, dramatic, reduction in stock value and the uncertainty of future profits raises the question of capacity to perform on the contract at a responsible level, they say.


ICE’s future, they point out, is questionable as well, with some speculation that it may even be moved from the Department of Homeland Security to the Commerce Department.  Incoming President Obama has pledged to deal effectively with the lack of comprehensive immigration reform in his first year in office, indicting that the past policy of detention during processing will not comprise the major strategy.  In any case, it is not unlikely that ICE will have a different model of operation in the near future.


Therefore, they argue, the other two parties to this proposed renewal contract are not the same strong business partners in place at the time of the original agreement, with  only WCCC’s strength remaining as it was at that time of the original agreement. 


Adding to that imbalance, monitoring  of the facility ordered under Judge Sparks’ settlement agreement as a result of lawsuits brought against the operation will lapse in August of 2009, leaving a void in that essential function.  This lack, say the opponents, increases  the risk that conditions that led to that lawsuit will re-emerge.  This, in their view, increases the possibility of greater responsibility and legal risk to WCCC and County taxpayers.


T Don Hutto opponent MaryEllen Kersch contends that “under any realistic assessment of  the business risks this renewal poses to the citizens of Williamson County, WCCC should decline to partner in the renewal of the contract.”

WCCC is scheduled to vote on the renewal at its December 23rd meeting at the courthouse in Georgetown.

For more information, please contact  MaryEllen Kersch, 512-863-7174.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Williamson Co. to Vote on Hutto Contract 12/23

Williamson County Judge Gattis announced this morning (12/16/08) that the vote on the proposed renewal of the contract(s) with CCA/DHS to operate T Don Hutto Detention Facility will take place on December 23 at the Williamson County Commissioners Court's weekly meeting.

After that announcement, several citizens spoke against the renewal, and WCCC was reminded that:


  1. Putting families in prison for infractions comparable to running a stop sign is “inappropriate.” 
  2. The lack of oversight and assurance of humane treatment for families held at T Don Hutto is alarming, and contradicted by our national sense of right and wrong, ---and does serious emotional damage to the young prisoners who end up gaining American citizenship. 
  3. Communities that locate a prison in their borders suffer immense long-term economic damage because “clean” economic growth avoids them. The uglier the facility, the greater the damage.
  4. There are alternatives to locking up babies and families, and they are proven to be less expensive-- and just as effective.  But they provide no profit for the prison industry.


So, between now and the eve of Christmas Eve, it is essential that those who opposing contract renewal:


1.  Contact anyone in the county hierarchy who might be able to help us; certainly the WCCC members, but also anyone who could talk to them with good audience.--minister, friends, family  members, etc.  WCCC contact info can be found


2.  Write letters to the editor to the Williamson County Sun, Austin American-Statesman, Austin Chronicle, or other newspaper; contact your local TV affiliate station's news department.  Ask for folks to join our effort on the blogs and email lists.


3  Consider getting a few other supporters to go with you to visit with your Williamson County commissioner--or go on your own; small settings can work far better than large, public ones because the commissioner needn't be defensive of the issue.


4.  Come to Saturday, December 20 vigil in front of the Hutto facility from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. to show support and generate more. (see next post)


5.  Attend the December 23 WCCC meeting that starts at 9:30 a.m.; come early ( CCA often tries to pack the place before it starts), bring others, and seriously consider speaking.  Write a three-minute speech to deliver.


The new faces and voices who have recently come out against the contract renewal have had a huge impact.  We can’t lapse now; let’s celebrate Christmas with the gift of an end to imprisoning innocent families and babies in Williamson County ----in Texas----in the United States of America.

For more information, to share ideas, and to get involved, contact MaryEllen Kersch, maryellenkersch [at] verizon [dot] net,  512-863-7174.

Toy Delivery and Vigil to End Family Detention

Saturday, December 20th, 3-5 pm, T. Don Hutto Detention Center

Please join Texans United for Families, Grassroots Leadership, WilCo Family Justice Alliance, Border Ambassadors, CodePink Austin, the Brown Berets and other organizations and individuals from across the state in the third annual December vigil to end family detention, Saturday, December 20th, from 3-5pm.  Organizers will deliver more than 500 toys to the facility in time for the holiday season.  Toys should be in their original packaging and not on a recall-list to be accepted into the facility. A carpool will leave 2604 E. Cesar Chavez in Austin at 2pm for the Hutto detention center.

If you plan to drive on your own, T. Don Hutto is located at 1001 Welch Drive in Taylor, Texas.

For more information, contact Bob at 512-971-0487 or blibal [at] grassrootsleadership [dot] org.

Update! If you are interested in joining a caravan from Houston, contact Maria Elena Castellanos at castellanoslaw1 [at] gmail [dot] com.  Folks will be leaving from the parking lot of Fedex Kinko's (Magnum exit, Hwy 290, Houston) at around 10:30. Meet up at 9:30 if you would like to make posters for the vigil.

Update! The Brown Berets are organizing a caravan, to leave from the Cesar Chavez Learning Center,1504 E. Commerce Street, San Antonio.  Arrive at 11am to get organized; the caravan will leave at noon.  Please contact Carlos De Leon at 210-627-3647 for more information.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Williamson Co. Residents Take Action Against Family Detention

On December 9, 2008, Sherry Dana and Mary Ellen Kirsch let the County Commissioners know how they feel about T. Don Hutto.

A group of citizens opposing the renewal of the T Don Hutto contract will address that elected body, again on Dec. 16, during the "Citizen Comments" section of the agenda at the start of the meeting.

Local opposition is growing and becoming more vocal in their determination to end WCCC's involvement in this corrupt contract. Last week saw a number of new faces and heard some forceful new voices opposing the renewal of the county's participation in this tragic abuse of power. The WCCC is in the process of considering the terms of the up-dated proposal and it is essential for them to hear our arguments before the item appears on the agenda for formal approval.

Click here for a speech called "Nativity and Immigration" delivered by retired United Methodist minister, Milton Jordon, on December 7.  He reminds us that Mary and Joseph were immigrants, too, and calls on us to maintain the spirit of hospitality by affirming the civil rights of everyone and welcoming diversity into our communities. 

From Sherry Dana,
As you are well aware, the detention of innocent children violates international law, federal law, and Congressional mandates.

You looked the other way when a detainee was raped by a CCA employee. You were unphased when U. S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks found it inexplicable that defendants spent untold amounts of time, effort, and taxpayer dollars to establish the Hutto family detention program, knowing that a federal ruling required immigration authorities to house children in the least restrictive conditions possible.

You ignored the testimony of the detained children and the results of investigations by reputable organizations such as Lutheran Social Services.

Your concern has not been that abuses were occurring but that the county could be held liable. Rather than showing concern for human rights abuses, you chose to add an indemnity clause requiring CCA to pay for an attorney to defend the county in a lawsuit resulting from these abuses.

A speaker at Sunday's vigil just returned from meeting with Sen. Kennedy's staff about T. Don Hutto, one met personally with Pres. elect Obama about T. Don Hutto. Several weren't with us because they were speaking in Washington D.C. and NYC about T. Don Hutto.

As of January 20th, George Bush, Dick Cheney and Michael Chertoff will no longer be in Washington to protect their friends in the private for-profit prison industry. We will have an administration that has vowed to uphold international law, that respects the judicial system, Congress, and the Constitution.

CCA's lawyers will work to protect CCA, not the county, from liability for our complicity in the inhumane treatment of these innocent women and children.

If you cannot find it in your heart to release these children, then look at your financial responsibilities to the county. Protect us from the financial repercussions that will surely come if you renew the Agreement between Williamson County and CCA to imprison women and children who ask for our help and instead are thrown in a private for profit prison.

From Mary Ellen Kersch:

Each Tuesday, this meeting opens with a pledge to our flag, appropriately declaring “liberty and justice for all, ” and that we are “one nation, under God.” That’s followed with a prayer, submitting to the will of God and the teachings of Christ. But when anything relating to T Don Hutto is on the agenda, this body seems to go into an amnesia state and ends up acting in contradiction to those standards of good government and brotherly love. The Golden Rule is regularly broken whenever the corrupt contract with ICE and CCA is under review.

T Don Hutto family prison does not exist for national security interests, or out of a sense of justice or patriotism; it’s driven by greed. Simple avarice. This contract personifies the corrupt business model of exploiting the very weakest among us to further enrich the most wealthy. At taxpayer expense.

Imprisoning innocent children of God, charged with no crime, is flat out un-American. It’s also un-Christian. (What WOULD Jesus do?)

I’ve previously told you a bit about my own son-in-law’s experience with ICE. That uncontrolled bureaucracy failed to follow their own rules, which they acknowledged, but then just decided to go ahead and punish the victim of their own sloth, anyway. ( I guess maybe the paperwork would have been too much trouble for them.) My family spent several terrified months as a result, during which ICE could have hauled him off, deported him, and/or imprisoned him in T Don Hutto. And it was THEIR error!

Maybe if he’d been a family member of someone on this dais, you’d be less complacent about this corruption for corporate profit. At taxpayer expense.

The fact is that there are humane, effective, and moral-- and far more “Republican”—i.e., “cost-effective,” alternatives to the T Don Hutto, for–profit- prison-for-non-criminal-immigrants. While you didn’t initiate this activity, your failure to require any of those alternatives makes you accomplices.

Well, here’s your chance for redemption: You can vote to remove us from this unholy union and notify the world that we do not put innocent people-- or children-- in prison in Williamson County, Texas.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Austin, Texas: Toy drive for families at Hutto

The University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic is collecting toys for children detained at Hutto, to be delivered close to the Christmas holiday.  Help make their Christmas merry and bright by donating toys made in the USA and  in their original packaging. Hutto could also use:

- books for kids of all ages as well as adults, especially those in Spanish, Arabic, Chaldean, Urdu, Portuguese, and Creole;

- CDs or DVDs (please, no movies rated above PG-13 or with sexual or violent scenes and no music with a parental advisory sticker);

- gently used coats, jackets, sweaters, and other warm clothes for kids or adults;

- phone cards.

Please bring any donations to the next Austin Immigrant Rights Council meeting (Dec. 18, 7-9 p.m. at Cristo Rey Church) OR contact Karla Vargas KMV229 at gmail dot com
 any time. 

Your gifts are deeply appreciated!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dec. 7, New York, NY: Worship Service and Workshop on Families and Detention

Please join Grassroots Leadership at historic Judson Memorial Church on Sunday, December 7, 2008, 55 Washington Square South, New York, for a service and workshop on immigrant family detention and the campaign to end it.  The schedule is as follows: 

11:00 am: Service and Agape Meal
Messsage: Luissana Santibañez
Music: Monica Simpson and Si Kahn

1:00 pm: Workshop: Families In Jail in America:
The Campaign to Abolish Immigrant Family Detention: Join Grassroots Leadership staff and board members Luissana Santibañez, Bob Libal, Si Kahn, Monica Simpson, Mafruza Khan and Mitty Owens for a short film screening of Hutto: America's Family Prison, a discussion of the issue and the campaign, and to find out what you can do to help stop 'immigrant family detention' before it spreads.  Workshop space is limited, so please RSVP to Monica Simpson at or 704-968-0658

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Obama taps AZ Gov. Janet Napolitano for DHS Secretary

Many are wondering what to think about President-elect Obama's possible nomination of Arizona governor Janet Napolitano for Department of Homeland Security Secretary. After looking into a few commentaries, I thought I would post some here.

Democracy Now's Amy Goodman discussed the nomination with Aarti Shahani of Families for Freedom, a NYC-based advocacy group. While Shahani notes that we should be very pleased with the change in security leadership, she also points out that Napolitano has led the expansion of 287(g) programs, lobbied DHS for escalations in immigration enforcement in Arizona, and cooperated with the notoriously racist Maricopa County Sherriff Arpaio. You can listen, watch, or read their discussion here.

In 2007, Napolitano asked the country not "to forget the border" in an NYTimes op-ed. There she argued for comprehensive immigration reform--especially a temporary worker program--but criticized proposals for two year work permits and requiring undocumented migrants to "touchback" in their home countries before getting visas.

According the Arizona Daily Star, the governor recently called for National Guard troops to return to the border. Chertoff decided that they were no longer necessary and pulled the troops last summer. Guard troops have provided support for ICE and CBP officers for years, but their presence has raised some questions about the role of military personnel in civilian life and the status of posse comitatus, which limits the role of the military in domestic law enforcement and policing.

For a critical review of Napolitano's gubernatorial legacy on more than just immigration, read Michael Lacy of the Village Voice.

Cheney, Gonzales, Lucio, & GEO Group Indicted in Willacy County, Texas

Not directed related to family detention--yet. Willacy County, the home of the Raymondville detention complex, has returned indictments for Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Texas state legislature representative Eddie Lucio, and the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) for their roles in the immigration detention system and the 2001 death of an inmate.

The Valley Morning Star reports:

The indictment charges Cheney with illegally profiting, by virtue of his office, from $85 million in investments in the Vanguard Group. The group invests in companies that house federal detainees. He also is charged with exerting pressure on how much prisons are paid to house detainees. ...

The indictment alleges that Gonzales used his position to stop investigations into assaults committed in the private prison managed by the GEO Group in Willacy County.

The GEO Group, formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corp., was also indicted on murder charges involving the 2001 death of an inmate killed in a Raymondville prison. The indictment accuses GEO of allowing inmates to beat Gregorio De La Rosa Jr., 33, of Laredo, to death with padlocks stuffed into socks. ...

Lucio is charged with profiting from public office when he acted as a consultant for Management and Training Corp., CorPlan Corrections, Aguirre Inc., Hale Mills Corp., TEDSI Infrastructure Group, Inc., and Dannenbaum Engineering Corp.

Last summer, Raymondville city council supported a bid for a new family detention center there, though ICE has not yet awarded those contracts. Needless to say, this series of indictments raises serious concerns about the viability of any facility that would house small children and families. (For more about these bids, see our previous blog posts.)

The case will be interesting because, as Will Bunch of and ABC News blogger Jan Greenberg, point out, the county doesn't have jurisdiction over federal crimes. In addition, the DA, Juan Angel Guerra, is in his last lame duck days as DA for the county. Further, four of the eight defendants participated in an earlier suit of Guerra, begging accusations of political vindictiveness. The Willacy County Sherriff even responded with a suit against Guerra, charging retaliation. According to Guerra, however, he has been investigating this case under the radar for some time.

It is unfortunate that these indictments emerge from such a wild political climate because the conflict of interests for public officials, serious problems with detainee care, and massive goverment spending on the incarceration for non-criminal violations should demand the attention of policy-makers and judge far beyond South Texas. The indictment hearings have been set for December 1, and we'll follow up here as soon as we can.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

December 7, 2008: Vigil for Families in Detention

Williamson County Courthouse | December 7, 2008

On Sunday, December 7, at 4 p.m. a peaceful coalition of individuals and groups opposing Willliamson County's participation in the detention of asylum seekers will gather on the Williamson County Courthouse steps in downtown Georgetown.

Although federal law requires the "least restrictive setting possible" for immigrant families, in 2006 Williamson County contracted with Corrections Corporation of America, a private for-profit prison company, to incarcerate non-criminal women and children in the T. Don Hutto detention facility in Taylor. The contracts between ICE, Williamson County, and CCA are up for renewal in January.

Please help us show Williamson County, Homeland Security, and the private prison industry that imprisoning innocent children will no longer be tolerated in the United States of America.

We will meet in the parking lot on Austin Ave. between 4th and 5th Streets in Georgetown at 3:30 p.m. and walk 3 blocks to the County Courthouse to hear community leaders speak in support of alternatives to the incarceration of families awaiting asylum or immigration hearings.

There are currently 385 detainees in T. Don Hutto including 92 children. As a result of the lawsuits brought by ACLU and the UT School of Law Immigration Clinic, detainees are now allowed to wear their own clothing. Thanks to a recent intervention by the UT School of Law Immigration Clinic, ICE has also agreed to allow detainees to use phone cards given to them rather than having to buy the cards through CCA.

If you would like to bring a gift to the vigil, suggestions include new toys in their original packaging (and made in the USA), books, music players, music, lotions, shampoos, candy, phone cards, and clothing such as sweaters and warm socks.

For further information or to sign up to speak, please contact Sherry Dana at sdana787[ at] gmail [dot] com.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The best laid plans... are posted on blogs at the last minute:

From Antonio Diaz, Texas Indigenous Council:

Native people celebrate death as it is a part of the circle of life, there is not need to fear physical death, the death of innocence on the other hand is a sad thing indeed.  We will be going to Taylor on Saturday, November 1 to recognize the Death of Innocence of the Children Detained at T. Don Hutto Prison.  November 1st is know as "Dia do los Inocentes," Dia do los Muertes from November 1st to the 2nd.  This loss of innocence due to incarceration because of greed of private prison corporations like Corrections Corp. of Ameria must be addressed and the policy of fear and division that allows for rampant greed to dictate immoral immigration legislation much come to an end.  Ending the Catch and Release program will be the first step to bring justice into immigration reform.  Join us if you are able: 6-8 pm, Saturday, November 1st at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center.  For more info, call Antonio Diaz at (210) 396-9805.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bill to Improve Detention Conditions Introduced to the House

On October 3, Lucille Royball-Alard (D-California) introduced the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act (H.R. 7255), a bill that would reform detention conditions for the 300,000+ detained in the U.S. each year. This bill seeks to set enforceable minimum standards for all in detention and sets more specific standards for unaccompanied children and detained women.

This bill followed the Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Raids and Detention Act (S. 3594) introduced by Senators Menendez (D- NJ) and Ted Kennedy (D- MA). This bill takes aim at the Department of Homeland Security / Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids that have hit the headlines in the past few months.

And earlier this year, Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act (H.R. 5950), which responded to the 82 detainee deaths in detention highlighted by the New York Times and Washington Post.

Why are these bills important? ICE has developed Family Residential Standards, which we have covered on this blog, and Adult Detention Standards. These serve as guidance documents for the government and non-governmental contractors that run detention facilities. Yet, the only real oversight remains internal to ICE-- that is, ICE inspects ICE facilities. The issue of internal oversight arose during the Hutto lawsuit, and the government repeatedly argued that there was no need for external inspections. While the Hutto Settlement contained court oversight, those of you familiar with the Hutto Settlement will remember that this will end in August 2009, when the settlement expires.

The bills above are Congress' efforts to give these standards "teeth," and hopefully set the bar a little higher for the treatment of detainees.

Numerous organizations have published statements, press releases, and reports on these bills. A few of them are:
Check back for more information as these bills move through Congress...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

News from Europe: French Court Decides that Family Detention Violates EU Human Rights

A Court of Appeals in Rennes, France, ruled October 1 that detaining families with small children violates Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As you'll see below, the court ruled that the removal of small children from 'the normal course of life' to the isolation of a detention center--even where it is prepared for families--is inhumane treatment. The court also ruled that the suffering caused by detention is disproportionate to the offense. Also note that the maximum detention period is 32 days. If only in the U.S....

(Dr. Maria F. Perez Solla translated this decision for the Detention Watch Network listserv.)

Jurisprudence (Rennes) : Annulation d’une prolongation de rétention pour une famille avec un enfant

Cour d’appel de Rennes (271/2008) du 29 septembre 2008, qui annule la prolongation de rétention sur l’article 3 de la Convention Européenne des Droits de l’Homme :

« Considering that the means employed constitute a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, that, asserts that nobody can be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment. As to fall within this provision, bad treatment should reach a minimum of seriousness, considering the whole circumstances of the case, in particular, the nature and the context of the treatment, the duration, the physical and mental effects, as well as the sex, age, and health condition of the victim ;

Considering that the State indicated that the placement of the spouses S. and their children at the detention center Saint-Jacques de la Lande, counting with facilities especially prepared for receiving families, does not constitute inhuman treatment and that due to his age, the child, who has never been separated from his mother, does not suffer psychological trauma in the measure that he can not realize his situation ;

Even in the case that there is a space especially reserved to receive families, the detention center remains a closed place where foreigners are retained, considering their isolation from French territory, for a duration of maximum 32 days; that, in this particular case, the fact of keeping, in such a place, a young family mother, her husband, and their one year old baby, constitutes inhuman treatment in the sense of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, because :

- - First, the child is suddenly subtracted, since his small age, from a normal and appropriate course of life: his parents' house - and is imposed, even temporarily, life conditions completely irregular for a one year old baby ;

- - Secondly, the big suffering, moral and psychical, caused to the mother and the father, suffering that, due to its nature, importance and duration
(the renewal of detention requested by the authority of 15 days), reaches the level of seriousness required as to apply the above-mentioned text.

Considering, moreover, that the suffering caused is manifestly disproportional to the goal persecuted, that is, to conduct the deportation of the family S., moreover, when those interested count with housing in Vitré...".
October 1st 2008

Saturday, October 4, 2008

New: Homeland Guantanamos: The Untold Story of Immigrant Detention in the U.S.

New website on immigrant detention! Launched by Breakthrough, a human rights organization, the website inaugurates a campaign to end detention in the U.S.

The website guides you through an (mock) undercover investigation of the death of Boubar Bah, a 52-year-old man from Guinea who passed away under ambiguous circumstances while in detention.

Besides the interactive tools, the website includes great information about detention issues in the U.S., ways to take action, and education tools. Check it out...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Austin-America Statesman: Human Rights Group Investigates Hutto facility

Never far from the spotlight, Hutto returns again. In today's Austin-American Stateman, Juan Castillo reported that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a group within the Organization of American States (OAS), is in Texas investigating detention, border, and human rights issues. As Castillo reports, the human rights attorney, Denise Gilman, and the UT Immigration Law Clinic requested an investigation last year. For the story, click here.

To learn more about the OAS investigation of Hutto, read this report submitted to the OAS by Gilman and the UT Immigration Law Clinic. The report details family detention policy and the human rights problems documented there. A nice, short backgrounder on the subject...

Melissa Del Bosque, from the Texas Observer, blogged about the border wall investigation, as well.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

TDH now has following function!

We are happy to announce this blog now has a following gadget! What this means is it's now even easier to stay up to date on what's happening at Hutto and with family detention. By signing up to "follow" this blog, you'll receive an email notification every time this blog is updated (Don't worry- it's super low-volume).

To become a "follower", look at the sidebar on the right. It's the third down, underneath Upcoming Events. Click on "Follow this blog" and they'll take you through it!

Friday, August 22, 2008

GRITtv features article on Hutto

This week, GRITtv with Laura Flanders is featuring Hutto: America's Family Prison in its Got Docs? segment.

Thank you to Laura Flanders for helping us get Hutto and family detention into the national spotlight!

(Click here to see the whole film)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Democracy Now! on Detainee Medical Care, Private Prisons, and

Tuesday, August 19, 2008.  Syndicated radio and television news hour, Democracy Now! publicized the T. Don Hutto story internationally back in 2007.  Host Amy Goodman interviewed Kevin Yourdkhani and his father, Majid, while they were detained at Hutto.  Since then, the deaths of 82+ detainees in ICE custody has drawn widespread scrutiny, including a new bill called the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act sponsored by Senator Lofgren (D, California).  A half hour is devoted to detainee medical care, ending with Renee Feltz, the co-author of The Business of Detention, discussing the role of the private corrections industry in immigration detention.  This section includes an interview with the Santibanez family, who have experienced Texas' immigration detention system firsthand.

Read the transcripts, stream the show, or download the podcast here.

For more on the Detainee Basic Medical Care Bill, download this summary from the Detention Watch Network.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008. Keeping with yesterday's coverage, today's DN! goes to Postville, Iowa, the small town with the rare distinction of hosting ICE's largest workplace raid in history.  This 3,000 person town lost 300 of its members in May, as ICE raided the Agriprocessors, Inc. plant located there.  Now, families of detained workers are barred from leaving Postville and are monitored with ankle bracelets.  Calling Postville "an open air prison," many women were left without support after their spouses were arrested and imprisoned.  Left as single mothers, they worry about buying school supplies, feeding their children, and finding relief, but it's an uphill battle, as Monica Ramirez of the ACLU and Paul Ouderkirk of St. Bridget's Catholic Church report.  It's not Hutto, but family detention is taking new forms.  

Please watch, download, or read the show, click here.

For extensive New York Times coverage of the Postville raid, click here.

For extensive archives on detention news, the Detention Watch Network provides a wealth of information in their database.  Search, read, learn, take action!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Saturday: Vigil at Hutto

Saturday, August 16th, 2008.

The Texas Indigenous Council in conjunction with San Antonio musicians and other community groups will be holding a vigil this Saturday, August 16th, in Taylor, Texas. Demonstrators will gather at 12:00 noon at Heritage Park where they will rally until 1 pm, followed by walk for the children to T. Don Hutto detention center for the protest, vigil, and music from San Antonio artists. Please contact Antonio Diaz at (210) 396-9805 for more information and caravan times from San Antonio.

Organizer & Spokesperson: Antonio Diaz
Sponsor: Texas Indigenous Council.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

CCA ordered to comply with Tennessee's public information laws

CCA has promised to appeal, but for the moment, a welcome victory for public accountability in the private prison industry. From The Tennessean:

A Chancery Court judge ruled today that Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America has to follow the state’s public records laws and open their files for public viewing.

CCA, which operates the Metro Davidson County Detention Facility and six other detention facilities across the state, said they were a private company that did not have to comply with public records requests.

Alex Friedmann, vice president of the Private Corrections Institute and an adversary of a CCA attorney’s nomination to a federal judgeship, brought the lawsuit after the company denied a request for records about lawsuits and settlements they were part of.

Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled that CCA was a “functional equivalent” to a governmental entity, because their operation of jails and prisons are essential governmental functions and most of their revenues are taxpayer-funded.

Bonnyman ordered CCA to make all their records available for inspection during business hours so long as they still have them and they aren’t exempted from public records laws because of court orders or seals.

CCA attorney Joe Welborn said they plan to appeal the ruling.

For more on CCA, the private prison industry, and private corporations' role in immigration detention see: Texas Prison Bid'ness and The Business of Detention.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mother Jones on Texas' Immigration Detention Industry & Hutto

Mother Jones' Stephanie Mencimer tells the story of an industry on the edge of collapse...until 9/11 and virtual government bailout of the struggling private prison industry.  The solution to lagging inmate populations? stagnant stock prices? empty jails?  Detain everyone suspected of immigration violations, including families...  Read the piece here

For more on detention and imprisonment from Mother Jones, see their prison archive

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Taylor Daily Press: ICE Blocks 911 Calls from Hutto

Philip Jankowski reporting:
Outgoing 9-1-1 calls placed by immigrants detained at T. Don Hutto Residential Facility in Taylor will soon be blocked after Immigration Customs Enforcement changes the phone system in the former prison.

The block affects telephones used specifically by immigrants housed in the facility. Also blocked will be all incoming phone calls.

The change came as part of a change in the contract between Williamson County and Immigration Customs Enforcement billed as "Modification ... relating to Low Cost Telephone Services" on the county commissioners' agenda Tuesday.

The commissioners voted 5-0 in favor of the item with no discussion of the matter. After the vote, County Judge Dan Gattis said he was unaware the alteration in the agreement effectively blocked outgoing 9-1-1 phone calls.

Regional Spokesman for ICE Carl Rusnok said the ability of residents at T. Don Hutto to place 9-1-1 phone calls is unnecessary because of the presence of trained medical professionals inside the facility.

"(T. Don) Hutto residents already have access to emergency attention by contacting any on-site resident supervisors. Medical professionals and facilities are also on site and can provide immediate services inside the center while ... personnel alert outside emergency responders through the 9-1-1 system, if deemed necessary," Rusnok said in an e-mail response.

Rusnok also said blocking 9-1-1 calls prevents any possibility of abuse.

Local League of United Latin American Citizens member and T. Don Hutto critic Jose Orta said ICE and Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the facility, were "covering themselves" from any possible calls to police.

He referenced an alleged sexual assault that occurred in the facility in May of 2007. That incident led to the firing of a CCA employee after he was caught on a surveillance camera sneaking in and out of a detainee's cell.

No charges were ever filed against the employee in that instance because of a now-corrected loophole in federal law.

The order approved Tuesday also expresses that phones should have access to toll-free numbers that will allow residents to use prepaid phone cards they purchase while at the facility, though it makes no mention of toll-free numbers to consulates or embassies.

"(Immigrants are) already hogtied as far as reaching out into the community," Orta said. "I get calls all the time — desperate families — they Google and see they are at the facility and sometimes they can't find their family members. If (residents) can't call out without these telephone cards, who knows how they'll ever get in touch."

Assistant County Attorney Hal Hawes, who submitted the deal to the commissioners' court, said blocking 9-1-1 calls would not cause any problems at the facility.

"They (CCA employees) provide security already," Hawes said. "They have a good sense of when 9-1-1 needs to be called."

The text of the alteration refers to 10 telephones being purchased and service with the capabilities of blocking 9-1-1 calls. The cost of the alteration is $942.01, a relatively small expenditure for the county.

Orta only partially blamed commissioners for letting the agreement slip through without any debate.

"This is the sad part about the county commissioners; they're not privy to all that goes on in T. Don Hutto. Every time they amend their contract ... ICE ... is not going to be forward about their intentions," he said.

Grassroots organizer and frequent protester of the facility Bob Libal said not allowing immigrants to place emergency phone calls is unsafe and that residents need access should they feel a need to call the police.

"It certainly doesn't seem like a good safety measure. And if ICE is upholding (T. Don) Hutto as a place that is safe and secure, that doesn't seem like a very appropriate action," Libal said.

LULAC Treasurer Jaime Martinez Grills Obama and McCain on Family Detention

July 23, San Antonio Current:  Patty Delgado interviews LULAC national treasurer about his conversations with presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama.  The whole interview is worth a read, but here are Obama and McCain's responses to questioning about family detention:

When you talked to Senator Barack Obama, what did he say?

He said in his first year as president he will bring immigration reform to the very forefront and that he will not run away from the issue if it gets politically uncomfortable. That’s the key. I asked him about Hutto. I looked him straight in the eye, and said, ‘I’m from Texas, there are prisons for profit that are holding families who do not have any documents. There are American children who are behind bars because Homeland Security put them there.’ He said, ‘I will address that issue as soon as I get elected President. We’re going to take care of those issues.’ He was very serious on the fact that he would make a change in immigration during his presidency.

 And did you get the same feeling from McCain?

I asked him the same question and McCain said, ‘I cannot address that right now, until I become President. But that issue is not an issue that has a lot of support.’

 That’s all he said?


 What about the millions of immigrant workers and families in America? Are they not support?

He said he won’t address it until people start pushing the issue. But right now he can’t do anything about it. There is not question in my heart and those that heard Obama speak that he is speaking to the bread and butter issues that we need to change in America.

 So do you think as the Latino community begins to rise and become more and more important in voting, do you think issues like Hutto will be brought to the forefront?

Definitely. We made [Hutto] an issue with LULAC’s press conference, now there are many organizations all over the United States supporting us. Our people are the largest growing population in America. We are making a difference and that’s why [candidates] are courting us. I believe that’s also why they are making it so difficult to get citizenship. They don’t want us to vote. The want to make it so difficult for us to become citizens and for us to vote, because once we vote, we’re going to have a brown-faced president in the United States in the future.

 So what we are seeing with Hutto and immigrant criminalization is like the Jim Crow laws?

Yes. Those laws are racist and deprive people of their rights. No taxation without representation. So once we have legal taxation, we’re going to have legal representation, not only in the school boards, but in state legislation to governors to the Presidency of the United States.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Advocates Protest the SAVE Act, meet with Congressman Rodriguez

Last week, Grassroots Leadership, Southwest Workers Union, No Wall-Big Bend, and PODER protested outside of Rep. Ciro Rodriguez's office in San Antonio.  Congressman Rodriguez had signed onto the SAVE Act, a bill that would increase family detention beds, expand immigration detention, and implement enforcement-only "solutions" to current inadequacies in the immigration system.  The protestors demanded that Rodriguez reverse his support for the SAVE Act. (Photo courtesy of

Watch a video of the protest here.

Friday, July 11, the group met with Rodriguez to express their concerns about his endorsement, calling on him to participate in a national sign-on letter against the SAVE Act.  After arguing the expansion of the border wall and family detention included in the SAVE Act would be detrimental to families, citizens, and newcomers to the U.S., the group convinced Rodriguez to rethink his position.  

Stay tuned for more on the growing national opposition to family detention...

LULAC Calls for Abolition of T. Don Hutto

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) passed a resolution calling for the abolition of family detention at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility at their national convention held earlier this month.  Stay posted for more on the mounting pressure on Congress to end family detention.

WHEREAS, LULAC promotes and defends universal standards of human rights including the rights and humane treatment of undocumented children and their mothers, and

WHEREAS, the lengthy detention of undocumented children, pregnant women and nursing mothers at a private facility called the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Tyler, Texas has reportedly traumatized numerous undocumented children and their parents, and

WHEREAS, this private prison facility called T. Don Hutto Detention Center is reportedly serving as the model for the further expansion for the incarceration of thousands of undocumented families throughout the United States, and

WHEREAS, 200 to 300 families a day are currently being detained for periods of 12 months or longer at T. Don Hutto Detention Center and

WHEREAS, the corporate owner of the T. Don Hutto Detention Center which was formerly a medium security prison, charges the United States Government $200 per day per person detained and

WHEREAS, there are less restrictive alternatives for monitoring the whereabouts of undocumented children and their parents while they await pending immigration hearings

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT LULAC Councils, District, State and National Administration will do everything in their power to close the T.Don Hutto Detention Center immediately and

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that LULAC Councils, District State and National Administrations support petition drives, peaceful public demonstrations, town hall meetings that call for the immediate closure of the T. Don Hutto Detention Facility; AND petition members of the United States Congress to review and reform immigration laws and regulations to include for a path to citizenship and cease the incarceration of innocent children and parents.

Approved this 11th day of July 2008. 
Rosa Rosales
LULAC National President

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Voices From Detention: GEO Group's Northwest Detention Center found to violate human rights

July 15: The Seattle University School of Law and OneAmerica (a Seattle-based organization advancing immigrant, civil, and human rights) released Voices from Detention on conditions at the GEO Group's Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA.  Based on 46 interviews, primarily with detainees, the report found:
  • Lack of due process and violations of attorney-client privilege.
  • The use of physical threats and intimidation to force detainees to sign papers.
  • Mistreatment of detainees by guards and federal marshalls.
  • Inadequate medical care, esp. emergency care.
  • Inadequate treatment of mentally ill, esp. refugees who had been persecuted in their homelands.
  • Insufficient quantities of food and incidents of food poisoning.
  • Poor living conditions due to severe overcrowding.
  • Language barriers to detainees. 
Unfortunately, these conditions have been found at detention centers across the U.S.  Check out the links in this blog's sidebar to learn how you can take a stand for immigrants' rights.  Read the executive summer here, and the full report here.  For more information on private prisons, visit the Texas Prison Bid'ness blog and the Business of Detention website.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lessons from History: Not the first time US has targeted families

AlterNet's Edmundo Rocha reminds us that Berks and Hutto aren't the first detention centers used for families, and the current trend of raids, intimidation, and fear isn't new either.

. . .Within hours of the declaration of war on Japan, all Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans who were in the US were branded"alien enemies." Of the 120,000 men, women, elderly, and children of Japanese ancestry sent to interment camps, more than 60% were native-born citizens. According to the US Department of Justice's "Review of the Restrictions on Persons of Italian Ancestry During World War II: Report to the Congress of the United States," within a few days after President issued Proclamations 2525, 2526 and 2527, 500 aliens of different ancestries were on a train with darkened windows bound for an undisclosed location in Montana. 

While most historical comparisons concerning immigration and race before and after 9/11 focus on the incarceration of Japanese Americans, the relevance of Mexican Repatriation remains vitally important for us to remember. Over the last century, migrant workers have been the most exploited class of workers in America. The concept of a guest worker program in this country is not new. More than 72,000 guest workers participated in the program from 1917 to 1921. In 1924, the government to discontinue the program and created the United States Border Patrol to locate and remove all non-citizens illegally. By 1931, it was time for the Mexicans to depart.

During the Mexican Repatriation of the 1930s, approximately 60 percent deported to Mexico were US citizens, including children born on the US. Both local and federal authorities did not consider the rights of the numerous citizens whom they deported. . . . 

The current fervor against immigrant groups is eerily reminiscent to the anti-Mexican sentiments of the 1930s. FBI reports on domestic hate crimes after 2001 indicate that such crimes against Latinas and Latinos surged from 2003 to 2006. . . 

Most people overlook the degree to which racial stereotypes might influence the public's perception on the targeted ethnic/racial group, in this case, Latina/os. Of the few articles written about the raids conducted by ICE, one could easily come to the conclusion that Latina/os continue to be coded in ways that conflate their identities with immigrants or foreigners, which means they would be presumptively subjected to immigration laws. . . 

For the time being, the tenor of the current immigration debate has thus far not changed significantly since Mexican Repatriation or the interment of Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans. Too many non-Latino Americans believe that we are in the mist of an invasion that will lead to economic plight and crime-ridden streets. Political leaders and the media need to examine the facts and speak out.

As a nation, we must be most careful in times of severe national stress and not repeat the sins of the past. The true test of human progress is whether we have the wisdom to see our faults and the strength to acknowledge them. Until we admit this, perhaps legitimate discussions concerning safety and economic growth will lead to an honest approach to immigration reform.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Detention Watch Network Releases NEW Map

The Detention Watch Network has released a new and improved interactive map of immigration detention. The map includes detention centers, community organizations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Offices, and Immigration Courts. A fantastic resource for public education!

Click here to learn more about immigrant detention.

American Immigration Lawyers Association on Alternatives to Detention

In a recent position paper, AILA advocates that DHS implement community-based, non-restrictive alternatives to detention for asylum-seekers, families, and vulnerable populations.  This does not include electronic monitoring systems, such as ankle bracelets, that severely restrict personal mobility.  Instead, AILA recommends that existing non-governmental organizations provide legal education and immigration services.  These non-restrictive alternatives, combined with education and community resources, are effectively decrease flight risk and are far less costly than detention in prison-like, restrictive settings.  For more details, read the paper here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

ICE responds to anti-family detention op-ed

In response to Barbara Hines' op-ed published in the Dallas Morning New opposing new proposed family detention centers, ICE field director Marc J. Moore wrote the following comment:

Re: "There's a better way – ICE should not be accepting bids to build new family detention centers, says Barbara Hines," last Monday Viewpoints.

Since its inception, the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center has been a safe and humane alternative to separating the families who enter the country illegally.

Many positive changes have been made. Families have access to high-quality medical, mental health and dental care 24 hours a day. Children attend school seven hours a day with state-certified teachers who provide a curriculum based on state standards. There are many recreational and social activities for all residents and few restrictions on movement throughout the facility.

Many of the conditions mentioned in the column have not existed for some time. The razor-wire fence shown in the picture accompanying the column was removed more than a year ago. ICE has taken a proactive approach to enhancing the facility since it opened. Many of the improvements were in place, under way or planned before the lawsuit referred to in the column was filed.

--Marc J. Moore, field office director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, San Antonio

Now take action!

Please take the time today, if possible, to write a letter to the Dallas Morning News stressing the inappropriate nature of family detention and Hutto. Letters can be sent using the site's online form, and should be 50-200 words in length. Letters can include the following points:

1) Detention of immigrant children and their families is inappropriate, costly, and inhumane. The experience at Hutto, a converted medium security prison operated by a private prison corporation where children as young as infants have been held with their parents, demonstrates that detention of families is a tragic response to the immigration issue. In addition, at an estimated cost of more than $200 a day per detainee at Hutto, the financial cost of such detention is unreasonably high, especially when more humane and cost-effective alternatives exist.

2) Congress has called on ICE to fund alternatives to family detention, saying that detention of immigrant children and their families should be the last alternative, not the first. ICE should be listening to the wishes of Congress and implementing alternatives to detention rather than soliciting new family detention centers. These alternative to detention programs are effective at ensuring that immigrants return to their immigration hearings and are much less costly than detention.

Thank you for your continued efforts to end family detention and close the T. Don Hutto detention center.