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.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hutto Resolution Passes State Resolution Committee (Dem. Party)

More news on the Hutto Resolution!  For those of you just tuning in, the resolution was submitted and adopted at over 60 the Texas Democratic Party primar precincts March 3. In the county delegate conventions March 29, the resolution passed in Travis, Williamson, and Brewster Counties. now reports that the Texas Democratic Party Resolution Committee has passed the Hutto Resolution, one of only 100 resolutions passed out of the 2,000 proposed. 

The current resolution reads:


WHEREAS border protection is important to the security of the nation as a whole;

WHEREAS immigration affects the economic and social well-being of both the United States and Mexico;

WHEREAS a private firm re-opened the T. Don Hutto Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas, for the purpose of detaining immigrant and asylum-seeking families who are awaiting immigration proceedings,

WHEREAS it is not appropriate to convert a medium-security prison and rename it as a family detention center where children are detained with their families and some children are separated from their families;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Texas Democratic Party add to its platform that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security should consider all alternatives to the detention of immigrant and asylum-seeking families with children, and must reunite children with their families; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a child who is brought into this country by a family member shall not be subject to criminal sanctions, and the child's presence in the U.S. shall not be defined as unlawful.

We echo the congratulations on this good news.  Deepest thanks to everyone for their hard work.  Keep up the pressure!

Locked and Loaded: CCA, the private jailer and one of Nashville's richest companies, is facing heightened scrutiny after a year of particularly heinou

Read the full article at Nashville Scene. Below are only the excerpts pertaining to Hutto.

by Matt Pulle

Located in a bland, almost anonymous Green Hills office park of fake lakes and fountains is the headquarters of the nation's largest private prison company, which, at the moment, may be the most disparaged corporation in the country. Since its inception in 1983, CCA has encountered legions of angry detractors who believe that the business of punishing criminals should not be—well, a business. But if the company has become accustomed to criticism over the years—like a best-selling author whose novels garner predictably bad reviews—it is now mired in a series of scandals, embarrassments and public-relations catastrophes that may tar its reputation for years to come.

In the last 18 months alone, CCA has been the target of several stinging lawsuits supported by detailed affidavits and third-party reports alleging dangerous and inhumane practices that have put inmates' lives at risk. Whistle blowers, once in positions of trust at CCA, have emerged from the shadows to tell vivid tales of corporate misconduct. Federal authorities have castigated the publicly traded corporation for operating an immigration detention facility in Texas on the cheap. And at that CCA complex—which at one point forced children of immigrant detainees to dress in prison garb—dozens of incarcerated women and children have come forward with gut-wrenching tales of anguish and neglect.

...In 2005, Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division (ICE), ended the practice of "catch-and-release"—which permitted undocumented immigrants like Elsa to remain free at-large while they awaited their day in court. Under catch-and-release, no-shows were common. So after 9/11, the specter of illegal immigrants from all over the world roaming the country became a security issue. Pilot programs sprung up that tracked immigrants with electronic bracelets, though Chertoff went with a draconian plan instead: Throw many of these men, women and children in Hutto, a former medium-security prison that was surrounded by a 15-foot fence topped with rings of barbed wire when it reopened in 2006 as a place for immigrant families.

...Just about every affidavit from a child or mother portrayed Hutto the same way—as a rough and cold place, where kids lie awake at night hungry and crying in the dark. And if they act up, like children often do, a guard would threaten to remove them from their families. To hear the stories from inside the walls, Hutto seems more like a medieval dungeon than a 21st century facility run by a wealthy company.

"The conditions were shocking," says Barbara Hines, a University of Texas law professor who spent many hours inside the facility representing detainees. "There were children in prison garb dressed like their parents; it was like an adult prison system. Seven times a day parents and their children were required to stay in their pods so they could be counted. Laser beams shined through the cells at night."

Just about everyone else who walked through the gates at Hutto, including federal authorities, saw it as a deeply troubling facility. In March 2007, ICE inspectors visited Hutto and, in their own distinct bureaucratic language, corroborated the anguished accounts of the detainees. The inspectors noted that their "overall review of the facility can be accurately rated as deficient" and determined that the staff wasn't following basic standards of detention.

"The Review Team's observation of CCA's overall attitude is of disinterest and complacency in their work performance," the agency noted in its report.

A month later, an interoffice memo from ICE said that at Hutto, CCA is "losing staff as quick as they can hire them." That's because the company was only paying its detention officers around $10 an hour, nearly $4 less than what they could make at the county jail.

"As long as CCA continues to hire employees at this rate per hour, they will continue to experience the problems they are currently experiencing on the floor," read the memo. "The current problems CCA is experiencing are a direct result of what 'they are paying their employees for.' Unfortunately, it is at ICE's expense."

Among other issues, the Scene asked CCA to address the portrayal of Hutto that emerges from both federal officials and the people who lived there. The company declined to comment on any and all matters in this story, instead emailing news clips and a U.S. magistrate's report of the facility. That report, which came three months after the ACLU filed its federal lawsuit, depicted a more humane place than other earlier accounts and noted, "there have been attempts to 'soften' the feel of the building." The magistrate observed that the staff removed door locks and hung murals on the walls, "although the building still retains a very institutional feel."

...By all accounts, Hutto is no longer as oppressive as it was when Elsa and her family first arrived from Honduras. But why didn't CCA get it right from the start? Or to put it more bluntly, why did a rich company—one with $388 million in revenues last quarter—have to be told by the ACLU to cease treating innocent children like criminals?

"The point I'd like to make is that none of these changes were done voluntarily," says Hines, the attorney. "When you look at CCA and ICE, the question is, how would this facility have been if no one found out about it?"

Monday, June 16, 2008

Barbara Hines: New ICE family detention centers a step in wrong direction

03:31 PM CDT on Monday, June 16, 2008

The federal government's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is accepting bids today for contracts to construct three new privately run detention centers across the country for children and their families awaiting immigration proceedings.

These facilities, each to be built with up to 200 beds, will expand the system of family detention made controversial in recent years at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas.

The proposal for new centers is a step in the wrong direction. Congress has repeatedly called on ICE, the agency within the Department of Homeland Security responsible for immigration matters, to implement alternatives to detention programs for families, stating that detention of families should be the last alternative and not the first.

In 2006, when I first went to Hutto, I was appalled by the living conditions. Children as young as infants, along with their families, were detained in a converted medium-security prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit prison management corporation. Children received one hour of education a day and wore prison uniforms. They were required to be in their cells for long periods during the day to be present for multiple cell counts.

Many of the detainees at Hutto have come to the United States fleeing persecution or social turmoil — asylum seekers fleeing civil conflict in Eastern Africa, Iraqi Christians targeted by fundamentalists and Central Americans seeking refuge from drug, gang and domestic violence. No detainee has been accused of a crime.

The psychological toll on children in detention is significant. Often already traumatized by conditions in their home countries and the process of being uprooted during migration, children and parents at Hutto reported being threatened with separation from one another as a disciplinary measure.

After widespread public advocacy against the facility, national media attention, a lawsuit and a settlement, conditions at the facility are significantly better. Children no longer wear prison scrubs, and they now receive seven hours of education a day. Also, they remain at the detention center for a significantly shorter amount of time.

Fundamentally, however, family detention remains an inappropriate response to asylum seekers and immigrant parents and children. Advocates continue to be concerned about news reports from Hutto, such as an alleged sexual assault of a detainee by a guard and the separation of a child from her mother for four days. Both incidents occurred last year.

Alternatives to detention include community-based, homelike shelters that provide access to counseling and legal services. Intensive-supervision programs also keep families together and out of detention. In fact, alternatives to detention programs have proved effective at ensuring that immigrants appear for their court hearings through a combination of telephone reporting and home visits. These programs are also substantially more cost-effective than detention.

One study by the Vera Institute found that more than 90 percent of immigrants on a supervised release program attended their immigration hearings. The average cost of a supervision program was $12 a day, compared with $61 a day to detain an immigrant. The cost savings are likely more pronounced in the context of family detention, which is more expensive than detaining adult immigrants.

Instead of contracting the construction of more family detention centers, ICE should seriously invest in alternatives to detention programs.

Barbara Hines is a clinical professor of law and director of the Immigration Clinic at The University of Texas School of Law. She was co-counsel — along with the national ACLU, the ACLU of Texas and the law firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene and McRae — in the lawsuit challenging conditions at Hutto. Her e-mail address is

May 24th vigil YouTube footage from San Antonio Current

thanks to Free The Children for posting this link...

Women's Commission Calls on ICE to Follow Congressional Directives on Family Detention

Theresa Pantazopoulos, Senior Media Officer (917) 701.7991 mobile (212) 551.2964 office
skype: tesspantaz

June 12, 2008 (New York, NY)


On June 16, 2008, the U.S. government will be another step closer to expanding the detention of immigrant families. Over the last two months, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has solicited proposals for the construction of up to three new family detention centers that would hold as many as 600 parents and children.

The Women's Commission calls on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to immediately halt the alarming growth of family detention. "This is a system that has already been found to be completely inappropriate for families, and we are deeply distressed by this expansion," said Michelle Brané, director of the detention and asylum program with the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children. "What's more, it ignores the explicit directive of Congress that ICE release families whenever possible."

The decision to add new facilities to the agency's roster of family detention centers comes despite a 2007 lawsuit alleging that children detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas were subjected to conditions of confinement that violated minimum standards of care for minors in federal custody. The resulting settlement forced ICE to undertake substantial modifications in physical appearance, medical care, disciplinary actions, education and recreation at the Hutto facility.

ICE responded to the lawsuit and massive public outcry by issuing "family residential standards." However, they are based on adult correctional standards intended to regulate the behavior of criminal inmates, not preserve and protect the unique needs of non-criminal families. Also, DHS' Request for Proposals for the new facilities violates its own standards in an alarming number of critical areas, including the provision of medical care, education, recreation and the use of restraining devices. "ICE's failure to comply with its own standards is further evidence that the agency does not intend to open—or at the very least, properly administer—family-centered, non-penal residential programs," according to Brané.

Notwithstanding Congressional directives and the disturbing conditions the Women's Commission found in family detention centers, ICE appears to be making detention the national model for addressing families in the immigration system. Although the proposal refers to the new centers as residential facilities, it prescribes services for adults and minors who will be "detained" on the premises and specifies the use of penal-type security mechanisms including fencing, cameras and physical counts.

The Women's Commission believes that detention is never good for families. Family units should enjoy a preference for release, should be considered for participation in alternatives to detention programs when simple release is not possible, and when no options for release or alternatives exist, should be housed in non-penal, homelike facilities operated by entities with child and family welfare expertise and that are subject to independent oversight.

Monday, June 2, 2008

In the News: Central Texas groups denounce the SAVE Act

On May 28, Central Texas community organizations, faith leaders, and political leaders held a press conference announcing their denunciation of the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act. They asked local politicians to join them in signing a national letter expressing their disapproval of the SAVE Act.  The press conference was led by Bob Libal, of Grassroots Leadership.  Speakers included Barbara Hines of the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic, José Orta of Taylor LULAC, and Reverend Jim Rigby of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.  

KLBJ was the first to cover the story.

The SAVE Act includes building new family detention facilities modelled on the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas, which has met widespread criticism and a lawsuit.  The letter presented Wednesday calls on Congress to make good on its demands that ICE find the least restrictive setting for families, rather than housing them in carceral conditions.  

Juan Castillo at the Austin-American Statesman followed up in print, as well.

Central Texas signatories include Texans United for Families, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, State Representative Eddie Rodriguez, Catholic Charities of Austin, Rev. Rigby, Pastor Les Krebs of Prince of Pease Lutheran Church, PODER, Political Asylum Project of Austin, Ponce Law Office, Grassroots Leadership, Proyecto Defensa Laboral, La Nueva Raza, LULAC, District 12, Texas Jail Project, Texas Civil Rights Project, American Friends Service Committee, Code Pink Austin, MADRES, and Marcelo Tafoya, LULAC National Civil Rights Commissioner.