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