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.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
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...
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
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.