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.