Thursday, November 5, 2009

Equal Justice Works Recognizes Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch

Equal Justice Works interviews Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch about leadership in public interest law. Kate has represented detained at Central Texas detention centers, including Hutto, and was one of the first of Barbara Hines' law students to visit Hutto. Great work!

UT Immigration Clinic Still At It!

Hutto no longer holds families, we're still happy to say, but now there are around 500 women held there. As the Daily Texan reports,

While struggling to attain asylum, hundreds of immigrant women are kept behind chain-link fences within a former medium security prison, no more than an hour away from the state Capitol.

A review of detention centers released on Oct. 6 by Dora Schriro, the former director of the U.S. Office of Detention Policy and Planning, made recommendations for detention centers. Janet Napolitano, U.S. Department of Homeland Security secretary, announced reforms for facilities soon after.

According to one reform, the center, which released the last family on Sept. 17, would detain women only. It has worked toward consolidating the female populations from three other facilities: Willacy, Pearsall and Port Isabel.

“Many of the settlement’s improvements that we achieved we hope will be continued to be maintained for the women, but the government is not bound by any settlement agreement,” Hines said.
UT law student Ruth Rosenthal works at the clinic and has visited the center with former UT law student — and current attorney for American Gateways — Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, who also worked at the clinic.

Rosenthal provided counsel for 25 women and assisted a woman from El Salvador, resulting in the reduction of her bond at the center and subsequent release in October. “She had a really good asylum claim. Also, at Hutto she developed numerous medical conditions,” Rosenthal said. “There were a lot of humanitarian concerns that compelled her release at Hutto.”

Pruneda said facilities have arrangements with nearby medical centers to provide health care if specific services needed are not available at the facility. The facility maintains a population of 512 and remains substantially full,Lincoln-Goldfinch said. She said the facility has remained true to the settlement, giving it “a residential feel, rather than a correctional feel,” but policies dictating the retention of detainees may require reformation.

“[Detainees] should be paroled out as soon as they pass a credible fear interview,” Lincoln-Goldfinch said. “You have to show you have been persecuted in the past or [have] a well-founded fear of future persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group.”

Pruneda said the average stay for detainees nationwide is 31 days. However, Lincoln-Goldfinch said some women may end up staying six to nine months “because their cases are a bit different.”

Lincoln-Goldfinch said alternatives, such as probation or an ankle-bracelet program, are a more cost-effective means of monitoring illegal immigrants.

“I would hope at some point there would be no Hutto facility in the sense that people would be released into the community more regularly and the government would explore alternatives to detention,” Hines said. “There are other means to ensure immigrants appear at their hearings, which is the rationale the government makes for detaining them in the first place.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

Vigil to close Raymondville's Tent City

Vigil to Close "Tent City" Detention Center in Raymondville, Texas

Friday, October 16th, 5:00-7:00pm

The Willacy County Detention Center in Raymondville is the nation's largest and one of its most notorious immigrant detention centers. The prison holds 3,000 immigrant detainees, including 2,000 people in a series of Kevlar tents, earning the facility the designation "Tent City." The facility has been racked by a series of allegations of horrendous conditions and abuse, including alleged sexual assaults on female detainees by guards, reports of detainees being fed rotten and inadequate food, and poor access to medical and mental health care. The facility is operated by private prison corporation Management and Training Corporation. Raymondville is the seat of Willacy County which borders Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico and is the 12th poorest county in the US.

The Raymondville detention center is one of two large immigrant detention centers in the Rio Grande Valley. Detainees at the other facility, the Port Isabel Detention Center, continue a rolling hunger-strike in protest of prolonged detention and detention center conditions. Please join Southwest Workers Union, Grassroots Leadership, Texans United for Families, Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, and concerned residents from across Texas in a vigil to launch a campaign to close Tent City and call for increased accountability in ICE's massive detention system.

For more information or directions, please contact Anayanse Garza with Southwest Workers Union at (956) 207-2571. A caravan will be leaving the Austin on Friday morning at 10:00am. For more information or to reserve for a place in the van from Austin, please contact Bob Libal with Grassroots Leadership at or (512) 971-0487.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

ICE moves women from other Texas facilities to Hutto

Today ICE announced more specific changes, following up on their August 6 announcement that Hutto would no longer detain families. With the last families leaving Hutto in September, the facility now holds only women. And now, it appears that Hutto will be a central detention center for women in Texas, as women are transferred there from Pearsall, Port Isabel, and Willacy (Raymondville).

By all accounts, the improvements made to Hutto following the ACLU's 2007 lawsuit make Hutto highly preferable to Pearsall, Port Isabel, and Willacy, where sexual assault and abuse allegations have repeatedly surfaced. Little has been done by ICE or the contracting corporations to address sexual abuse.

These changes are announced as ICE releases Dora Schriro's comprehensive study of the immigration detention system. More on that forthcoming, but a brief look reveals a deep concern for the expense of using private contractors, the inappropriateness of carceral forms of detention for non-violent detainees, and massive administrative disorganization.

Read ICE's fact sheet.
Read the full report on ICE's detention center.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Least of These Screening, San Francisco

Surviving Criminalization: Films on Incarceration & Family Detention

The Equal Justice Society next month will feature two documentaries that take a probing look into America's criminal justice and immigrant detention systems. As racial justice advocates, we believe that building a movement that addresses both systems of oppression is imperative.

Wednesday, October 14th
7:00 pm
Sundance Kabuki Cinema
1881 Post Street, San Francisco Japantown

On Facebook

Putting a human face on the issue of incarceration, THE TRUST ( follows three men determined to stop the cycle for themselves, their families and their communities. The men’s experiences are contextualized by expert testimony, which explores the historical and contemporary Corrections System providing a framework to understand how our prison population has grown from 200,000 to over 2.3 million in less than 40 years. THE TRUST is currently in production, and we will screen a 20-minute trailer.

THE LEAST OF THESE [], the second film, explores one of the most controversial aspects of U.S. immigration policy - family detention.

THE LEAST OF THESE takes a penetrating look at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a former medium-security prison that re-opened in 2006 as a prototype family detention center. The facility houses immigrant children and their parents from all over the world who are awaiting asylum hearings or deportation proceedings.

As troubling information about facility conditions began to leak out, legal advocates proceeded to investigate. The film tells the stories of their quest to bring justice to families in detention, and explores the role (and limits) of community and legal activism in bringing about institutional change. This feature-length screening will be the West Coast premiere of THE LEAST OF THESE.

The film screenings will be followed by a panel discussion
and Q&A session with the films' directors and lead characters.

General admission: $10
Community member rate: $ 5

For sponsorship inquiries, please contact either:
Sara Jackson,
Miguel Gavaldón,

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

**Last Families Leave Hutto**

Good news! Long before any of us expected, ICE has released (or deported) the last families from T. Don Hutto. The facility will now be filled with noncriminal immigrant women. Here's what the Associated Press had to say about it:

The last immigrant families have departed a disparaged former Texas prison that housed them while they awaited decisions in their immigration cases, officials said on Friday.

The families have been deported, paroled or released while they pursue asylum or another immigration status to remain in the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement. Less than two dozen children and adults remained at the T. Don Hutto facility in Taylor last week and the last four families left by Thursday.

But please keep in mind that the struggle to reform the detention system is not over. As the New York Times editorialized this weekend,

On Friday, her last day on the job, Ms. Schriro delivered a report on the detention system to Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary. We hope that it fully reflects the desperate reality: the brutal mistreatment; isolation, filth and deprivation; the shabby or nonexistent health care and the ill and injured detainees who languished and sometimes died, their suffering untreated.

Ms. Schriro’s successor will have a big job in fulfilling the administration’s promise of reform. The abuse and neglect must end. The system must also become much more discriminating about whom it holds — dangerous criminals, not the harmless and sick.

It will also have to rein in the private for-profit prisons that deliver brutal service on the cheap. And it will have to increase accountability and transparency. Ms. Napolitano can start by releasing Ms. Schriro’s report. Americans need to find out what happened in Basile, La., where detainees staged a hunger strike to protest detestable conditions, or downtown Los Angeles, where inmates filed a lawsuit to protest the squalor.

While Ms. Napolitano and her team promise to make detention a “truly civil” system, they show no interest in reforming the corrupt mechanisms that feed it. Instead, they are expanding the programs that have allowed corrupt local officials to round up thousands in unjust raids. The same people whom President Obama has promised a decent shot at citizenship remain easy prey to racial profiling, and are terrified of ending up in this truly uncivilized system. Mr. Obama and Ms. Napolitano must resolve that fundamental contradiction.

Hutto was just the beginning. If you were enraged by the imprisonment of children, that was only the tip of the iceberg. Keep checking this blog for updates on what comes next.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

AP: As detention center shuts down in Texas, advocates worry about future for immigrant families

As detention center shuts down in Texas, advocates worry about future for immigrant families

Associated Press Writer

6:31 p.m. EDT, September 9, 2009

DALLAS (AP) — As immigrant children and their parents depart a disparaged former Texas prison that housed them while they awaited decisions in their immigration cases, advocates are questioning if the government has fully thought out what happens to the families now.

Federal officials announced last month that the T. Don Hutto facility in Taylor would no longer hold immigrant families and they instead would be detained at the much smaller Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pa. But with only 84 beds — and more than 100 people once housed at Hutto — some advocates wonder if there will be enough space, or if immigrants will be released.

"We still have a lot of questions and would like to hear more details," said Denise Gilman, of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, which along with other advocates filed a lawsuit contending that family detention at Hutto was inhumane.

Hutto is set to stop holding immigrant families by the end of the year, government officials say, and families have slowly been leaving. Instead of transferring the families to Berks, the government has been trying to process the cases of families at both facilities.

The Texas facility went from holding 127 men, women and children last month to just 22 people this week. They were either deported to their home countries or released while they pursue asylum or another immigration status to remain in the U.S.

As the change takes place, advocates are watching to see if thePennsylvania facility has better conditions, if cases are handled fairly and if new problems arise because of the shift.

Hutto opened as a family detention center in 2006, ending a so-called "catch and release" practice that had permitted families to remain free while their immigration cases were settled. The facility was necessary, ICE officials maintained, because many never showed up in court or some borrowed other people's children and posed as families to avoid detention.

But the facility quickly drew criticism, and The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocates sued the government in 2007 over the detention facility's conditions.

Attorneys and UT law students visiting Hutto to assist detainees with their immigration cases were astonished by the prison-like setting and regimen. Children wore drab prison scrubs. Razor wire encircled the site. They lived in tiny cells furnished with bunk beds and a steel toilet and were subjected to head counts several times a day. Guards with the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America trained to detain criminal adults were overseeing children. Parents said guards disciplined children with threats of being separated from their family.

The Berks facility, by contrast, is a former nursing home and with a reputation among attorneys for being more family friendly. Younger children stay with their parents, while teenagers sleep in separate rooms. One former resident told The Associated Press adults and children went on field trips during her stay, refrigerators in the hallways were stocked with fruit and juice and an interfaith prayer group is available. But still, the stays can be far from smooth.

The resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she fears for her safety after fleeing cartel violence in Mexico, said at the border, officials had told her and her American husband she would only be detained for a week at most. But when she arrived, there were families who had been at the facility for a year, longer than the typical stay of a month at Hutto. Some residents had waited for a month or two before being interviewed by an asylum officer.

"That's when I said to myself 'So what awaits me?'" said the Mexican woman, who has since been released on humanitarian parole after a month at Berks and has petitioned to remain in the country since she's married to a U.S. citizen.

Going forward, families arriving at the U.S. border and entry points seeking asylum or trying to immigrate will be taken to Berks if the government believes they will disappear instead of showing up to immigration court, said Dora Schriro, who has been heading up the new Office of Detention Policy and Planning at the Department of Homeland Security. Other families will be released and placed on some type of community supervision, Schriro said.

The families at Hutto will likely be deported or receive some type of immigration benefit, such as asylum or parole, allowing them to remain in the U.S. before Hutto closes, she said.

Schriro will leave her new post mending of the nation's immigration detention system to be commissioner of correction for New York City, leaving advocates with questions over how that will affect the upcoming changes.

For now, advocates for immigrant families say they will be watching to see if Berks detainees can access legal representation. About one-third of asylum seekers before the court that handles Berks' cases did not have an attorney, while a majority at Hutto did, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Having an attorney boosts people's chances of remaining in the country.

They also worry there could be some unintended consequences in the switch, especially when it comes to distance. Berks is located thousands of miles from the border crossings in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas used by most of the detainees and some question whether the government will be able to quickly and humanely transport such families to Pennsylvania.

"What happens to a family arrested in Texas or who goes to the border ... and asks for asylum? Will those people be released?" asked Barbara Hines, director of the Immigration Clinic at UT Law School. "To send them all the way to Berks if they're going to be released anyway seems like a waste of resources to me."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Williamson County Votes to End Contract with CCA

Not much a victory, since they will fill the remaining beds with women, but at least children will not be detained there anymore, and at least Judge Gattis seems more aware of the issues than in the past. Repetition works!

County ends contract with CCA

By Philip Jankowski

Williamson County Commissioners voted Tuesday to end their contract with Corrections Corporation of America, the contracted operator of the T. Don Hutto Residential Center for illegal immigrants.

County Judge Dan Gattis said the move was more of a “housekeeping” procedure than an indication the county no longer wishes to contract with CCA to operate the facility. Gattis said Monday the county is waiting for Immigrations Customs Enforcement to draft a new contract so the facility can continue to hold women.
In early August the Obama administration ordered children and families at the facility to be placed in a Pennsylvania facility deemed more suitable for children. Families were expected to be moved in a matter of weeks and to be fully removed within months.

The Taylor facility’s population of families had fallen in recent years. To help fill the 512-bed facility, ICE began housing female detainees at the facility. By mid 2008, an entire wing of the former medium security prison was devoted to housing women.

Without that contract in hand, Gattis said he felt a need to terminate the county’s contract with CCA just in case the ICE contract does not come through.

“To protect ourselves we’re giving notification to CCA,” Gattis said. “It’s one of those legal things we felt we needed to do because the funds come from the county.”

CCA’s contract with Williamson County will expire at the end of this year. Gattis said he hopes to have a new contract with ICE before that, but if not, CCA will be forced to cease operations at the south Taylor facility.

“That’s a concern of mine,” Gattis said of the possibility of losing CCA jobs. “I hope (ICE) will come down with a proposal and we can keep that facility open.”

The T. Don Hutto facility is one of the largest and best paying employers of unskilled labor in Taylor. Guards can make upwards of $17 an hour, according to 2008’s contracted rates.

Gattis said he expects a certain amount of fervor to persist, though, in spite of children no longer being housed at T. Don Hutto, it will be greatly diminished.

“The majority of that group was upset because children were locked up, so that pressure will go away, but there’s a certain group that doesn’t believe in locking up people who are the in county illegally,” he said.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Houston Solidarity with Aug. 22 Rally; Aug. 29 Rally in Houston Announced

Estimados companeros en la lucha y Human Rights Advocates:

The "Free-the-Kids Hutto-Houston Colectiva" fully supports ongoing efforts to CLOSE THE INFAMOUS T.DON HUTTO "FAMILY PRISON," in Taylor, Texas.

And we call for both "CELEBRACION Y MAS ACCION" regarding a key victory in the struggle for immigrants rights and for protecting democratic rights in the United States.

Even though few, if any, Hutto-Houston Colectiva advocates can get to the Aug 22nd Vigil and Rally in Taylor, Texas, please know that we are doing our part in mobilizing Houston rights' advocates and youth for the:

What: Aug 29th "Celebration & Mobilization" Rally
Where: at James Driver Park (basketball court), at 10918 and 1/2 Bentley St., in northeast Houston, (near Hwy 59, Eastex, and Little York Rd)
When: Saturday, Aug 29, 2009; 4:30 pm -6:30 pm.

The Hutto-Houston Colectiva, in collaboration with La Raza Justice Movement and other organizations invites you to join us at the Aug 29th celebration/mobilization rally. Bring your banners, energy, musica & ideas.

Colectiva's participant groups and organizers are committed to the goal of CLOSING
DOWN the T.DON HUTTO "MOMMY" prison and to push for fair IMMIGRATION

We are also calling for a moratorium on family detentions, a halt to deportations, no border wall, and for the American people to STOP 287(g) which is re-channeling federal funds into the financing of local jail, county and state prison facilities through "racial profiling" and through the prosecution and jailing of immigrant workers for small infractions.

For more info on the Aug 29th rally call:
Hutto-Houston Colectiva at: 832 244 7506;
La Raza Justice Movement at: 281-733-8463

Friday, August 21, 2009

Berks County Considering End of Family Detention Contract

Those of us seeking an end to family detention might welcome this news, but there's an insidious subtext to this discussion: county governments and private prisons corporations alike seek to profit on the imprisonment of human beings. That is, there is a monetary incentive to expanding imprisonment and detention that has nothing to do with making good policy, fighting crime, or enforcing immigration law. When there's an incentive to imprison, the goals of our criminal justice and immigration detention systems are grossly out of perspective.

Berks County may stop housing illegal aliens

Shutting family center would cost 50 jobs; county doesn't profit from running Bern facility

By Holly Herman
Reading Eagle

While federal officials are planning to move families seeking American citizenship from a Texas detention center that is closing to a Berks County shelter, the county commissioners are considering getting out of the alien-housing business.

The Family Center in Bern Township is the only other facility in the country that houses families awaiting hearings or the results of hearings on requests to stay in the U.S.

But with tight economic times, the Berks County commissioners may end up closing the Bern Township center, which opened in 2001.

So far, no definite plans have been made to shut down the 84-bed center housing detained immigrant families captured at the borders and in other places.

Closing the facility would mean the loss of 50 county jobs, officials said.

But the county isn't profiting from the money the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service pays the county for housing the detainees .

"At the initial stages we were permitted to make a profit, but now we are breaking even on it," Commissioner Chairman Mark C. Scott said. "We have been helpful to the federal government for a decade.

"Everything is on the table in terms of cost cutting. We are in the process of shrinking county government," Scott said.

The center, which generates more than $3 million in income annually for the county, costs $5.6 million a year to operate.

It's' paid for by the federal government and staffed by the county.

ICE officials said the 512-bed T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas, is expected to close in December.

ICE has been reviewing cases of 127 men, women and children residing in the facility since plans to close it were disclosed on Aug. 6.

"We are working on a case-by-case basis to determine if the families will be moved to Berks," said ICE spokeswoman Gillian M. Brigham.

So far, no detainees have been sent to Berks from the Texas facility.

Brigham said that some families will go through the immigration legal proceedings and be deported.

She said others might be released into the community to await hearings. Some of the families are seeking citizenship, some want asylum. ICE hearings will establish their legal status. Others are awaiting deportation.

Brigham said the bulk of illegal immigrants come to this country alone.

The goal of the shelter program, when it started in 2001, was to keep families together while they are being detained.

Kenneth C. Borkey Jr., executive director of the Berks shelter, said ICE officials notified him of the planned move but have not requested additional bed space.

Borkey said he has prepared a report on the availability of additional space if such a request is made.

Borkey said the center could be expanded to include 12 to 18 beds without additional renovations.

When the Berks center opened in March 2001, the federal government was paying the county $3.6 million for housing families in a renovated wing of Berks Heim, the county nursing home.

The county paid $280,000 for the renovations.

In 2004, new federal regulations prohibited governmental agencies from making a profit by providing service programs.

Subsequently, the county is no longer profiting from providing the services.

The county is receiving $144,000 to rent office space to federal employees using the program.

Scott, who was a commissioner when the program started, said that initially the program was a money maker.

"When we started this program, we were helping the federal government," he said. "Before this program, they were spending more money on housing families in hotels."

Scott said that he supports helping the federal government, but is more concerned about the economic impact on the county.

"It's our patriotic duty to help the federal government," he said. "But it's not a financial boon. Do we continue to tolerate this moving forward? The question we must consider is whether we can find another tenant."

Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt said he does not support expanding the program.

"We are talking about whether we want to continue the program," he said. "When the federal government said it was considering transferring people to Berks, it was a shock."

Barnhardt said the downside to closing the program is losing county jobs.

Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach said that if the county were losing money on this it would be his priority to cut the program.

"We are breaking even," he said. "There are no plans to shut it down, but we are looking at it from a financial point of view."

The facility provides computer linkup services with immigration courts in York County.

The shelter provides medical and dental care. And it provides education classes and athletic activities for children.

Berks County was selected as the site in 2000 because of its excellent working relationship with the federal government when it was housing illegal aliens in the county jail.

That program is being phased out because of overcrowding conditions in the county prison.

Contact Holly Herman: 610-478-6291 or

USA Today, Raul Reyes: A kindler gentler immigration system?

A kinder, gentler immigration system?

Commentary By Raul Reyes
This country's immigration detention system has been a stain on the American fabric. The good news: The stain may soon begin to fade.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary John Morton recently announced plans to reform the system that houses more than 30,000 people on any given day. The agency wants to go from a jail-oriented approach — think prisons — to one designed to humanely house people until their status is settled.

The T. Don Hutto center in Taylor, Texas, has been a poster child for a broken system. Built as a state prison, Hutto was used as a family detention center. Children lived behind barbed wire, wore prison uniforms and received an hour of school a day. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the government on their behalf, and conditions improved once a settlement was reached in 2007. ICE's Morton said that effective immediately, no more families will be sent to Hutto.

Of course ICE could — and should — do more. Detainee facilities that violate agency standards face no penalties, echoing a July decision by the Department of Homeland Security that such standards are not legally enforceable. Without penalties, standards are mere goals that can be easily disregarded. Detainees are the only ones who stand to pay.

Repeated studies have documented poor conditions, ranging from a lack of due process to detainee abuses. Fortunately, an ICE pilot program is looking at alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring that includes reporting requirements and curfews. According to agency statistics, the program has resulted in a 99% appearance rate at immigration hearings and a 91% compliance with removal orders in the 12 test cities. An expansion seems like a no-brainer.

ICE's small steps are a good start toward fixing the detention system, which is as dysfunctional as our immigration system. And no, this doesn't mean opening up our borders, as the anti-immigrant crowd might fear. "We are going to continue to detain people on a large scale," ICE's Morton noted. As strategy, though, continued and aggressive enforcement could give the Obama administration the leverage it needs to sell comprehensive reform to a wary public next year.

With Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the job for all of eight months now, it's only fair to give her more time to assess what's needed to enforce our immigration laws. Let's hope the former Arizona governor applies her knowledge of the border to the compassionate fabric of this great country.

Oh, and maybe she'll get that stain out after all.

Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York and a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Economist: When Home Is Prison

The venerable neoliberal rag, the Economist, covered changes in US immigration detention policy, as well, though it mostly summarizes previous reports/posts. Correction, however: Napolitano has NOT scaled by immigration enforcement compared to Chertoff. Instead, she has expanded the 287(g) program, which allows local police to enforce immigration law, to a host of new cities, many of them in Texas. 287(g) has been discredited as institutionalized racial profiling.
Aug 13th 2009

Slow improvements in the processing of immigrants
[Janet Napolitano's] department has already made changes. The administration has scaled back the workplace raids that were so controversial during the Bush
years. It is opting instead to focus on auditing employers and
expanding E-Verify, an electronic system that lets employers check the
immigration status of potential employees.

But the biggest shift concerns family detention. In 2006 George Bush
said he would end a policy known as "catch and release", whereby
illegal immigrants were allowed to go free after being caught because
so many of them failed to turn up for subsequent court proceedings. But
detaining children and families proved more delicate than holding lone
adults. Later that year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
opened a facility specifically for families in Taylor, a small town
north of Austin.

The T. Don Hutto Family Residential Centre was formerly a
medium-security prison. In its new incarnation it is still run by the
Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company. And
inside, Hutto used to be just like a jail. Barbara Hines, director of
the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas's law school, says
that she was shocked when she started visiting: children were wearing
prison uniforms and the parents were depressed and desperate. Everyone
was cooped up in cells for most of the day, and the children had only
an hour or so of lessons.

In March 2007 the Immigration Clinic and the American Civil Liberties
Union sued Michael Chertoff, then the head of the Department of
Homeland Security, over the conditions at Hutto. In August that year
the parties settled, with the government agreeing to a list of reforms.
That agreement was set to expire later this month, but on August 6th
ICE announced an overhaul of America's approach to detention. As
immediate steps, the government would put monitors in many of the adult
facilities, and immediately stop detaining families at Hutto.

The announcement raises questions. For one thing, it is not clear
where the families are going to go. ICE said that it would move them to
the Berks Family Residential Centre in Pennsylvania, but that facility
is full. And although Berks is somewhat nicer than Hutto,
immigrants'-rights groups are still sceptical about keeping children in
detention at all.

Planning large-scale reform next year may still be too ambitious: it is
an election year, which makes politicians even more skittish about
controversy. But some reform advocates are more optimistic: at least,
reckons Charles Foster, an immigration lawyer in Houston, immigration
reform is still on the agenda.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Austin-American Statesman: Grassroots Movement Helped End Family Detention at Hutto

The alliance of attorneys, grassroots organizers, and a diverse coalition of outraged Texans from across the state has been getting some much-deserved kudos in the press. Check out this Austin-American Statesman article on how it all came together (and about how sometimes it didn't, which is okay, too). There were hundreds more involved than are mentioned by name-- if you're one of them, your hard work has been recognized!

T. Don Hutto detention center united diverse group in protest

Group's efforts helped lead to an overhaul of nation's immigrant detention policies.
By Juan Castillo

Thursday, August 13, 2009

When she first set foot in the T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center in Taylor shortly after it opened in 2006, Frances Valdez was not prepared for what she saw behind the former medium-security prison's razor-wire-ringed perimeter. There were children inside. Infants in prison-like uniforms, and pregnant women.

"It was shocking," Valdez said.

A recent graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, Valdez immediately called her mentor, Barbara Hines, the director of the school's immigration clinic where the young Austin lawyer was a clinical fellow.

"You're not going to believe this," Valdez told Hines — a bold assertion considering that with more than three decades of experience working on immigration law issues, Hines had probably seen it all.

But Valdez was right, Hines said

recently, recalling with still-heavy emotion the things she witnessed on her own visit to the Hutto center a week later that August.

"Just thinking about it takes me back to that place," Hines said. "It was so dire. It was the most depressed population I think I've ever seen."

Last week, three years and three months after the Hutto detention center opened, the Obama administration announced it will stop holding families there as it looks for alternatives to prison cells for some immigration law violators as part of an overhaul of the nation's immigration detention system.

The policy shift might not have been possible, according to some analysts, if not for the work of an unlikely but effective patchwork alliance of attorneys and community activists that emerged after Hines' and Valdez's unsettling initial visits to the Hutto center. The partnership quickly mushroomed to include hundreds, if not thousands, of people, including twenty-somethings and senior citizens, Williamson County residents, immigration reform advocates, human rights groups, documentary filmmakers, immigration clinic students and faculty and the American Civil Liberties Union. Though participants say they were not always on the same page, they were unified in their unrelenting calls for the government to close the center and to stop detaining families there.

They succeeded in drawing national and international media attention to the center as well as the scrutiny of international human rights groups. And in 2007, a lawsuit by the ACLU and Hines' UT law clinic led to a settlement agreement ordering the government to maintain improved conditions at the detention facility, about 30 miles northeast of Austin. (Set to expire later this month, the agreement was extended last week.)

"I think all of that (work by activists and attorneys) led to getting the new administration to understand that Hutto was an entirely inappropriate place to hold families," said Michelle Brané with the New York-based Women's Refugee Commission and author of its scathing 2007 report on family detention. "The reason they realized that is because we were able to inform them of what was going on there and explain why it was inappropriate."

Hines said the alliance was an "amazing experience" that showed how lawyers and activists, though sometimes at odds, could ultimately work together.

"Fundamentally, there was something about Hutto that really tugged at people's heartstrings," said Bob Libal with the grass-roots coalition Texans United for Families, which helped organize dozens of vigils and rallies outside the Hutto center's fences beginning in late 2006. "There were children there, and I think that makes people question the whole premise behind detention."

Detaining families

Those locked up at Hutto — in roughly 10-foot-by-10-foot cells — hail from all over the world and are seeking asylum or are being held on what the government defines as administrative, noncriminal violations of immigration law.

Only one other facility in the country — the Berks Family Shelter Care Facility in Leesport, Pa. — detains immigrant families. Those being detained in Taylor will be transferred by the end of the year to Berks, which will remain open pending further reforms, officials announced last week.

The decision to detain families was part of a 2006 Bush administration policy that ended a long-standing practice called "catch and release," under which immigrants promised to appear before a judge at a later date when there weren't enough beds to hold them.

Officials said mandatory detention was necessary because many families skipped their immigration hearings. They said detention was a safe, humane way to deal with families and keep them together.

But the Hutto center quickly came under fire amid a lengthy list of accusations of inhumane, substandard care and living conditions, among them that families were denied adequate diets, education, recreation, and medical and mental health care. Children initially received only one hour of education a day. Valdez and Hines said that in the beginning, parents were denied private meetings with counsel, meaning that many had to describe fleeing sexual abuse, imprisonment or torture in their home countries while in the presence of their young children.

Brané, who visited the center in December 2006, said parents told her that guards frequently threatened to separate them from their children if they didn't behave.

Amid the outcry, and as activists began steadily beating the drum for the center's closure, government officials expanded education and recreation and implemented other improvements early in 2007. But attorneys and activists continued arguing that imprisoning families, who in many cases were fleeing persecution in their home countries, was traumatic for the children and that there were plenty of alternatives to detention. Last week, government officials said they would consider alternatives, such as supervised release and the use of ankle bracelets, for some families.

Joining forces

Soon after the 2006 visits of Valdez and Hines, immigration law clinic students began providing representation to families held at the center.

Hines said they decided early on to enlist the help of activists to get the word out. By December 2006, community activists had helped organize the first of dozens of candlelight vigils at the center. Valdez said that even though only about 30 people attended the first vigil, "that's when it blew up." Soon, media representatives from around the world were calling about the lockup in Texas that held children and families, some for several months at a time. Refugee and human rights groups began descending on Taylor or monitoring developments there.

Valdez, who now practices immigration law in Houston, said that under their growing relationship, attorneys — the only ones who had access inside the center — typically described to activists the conditions and developments there. All used that information to consider their strategy in the campaign to close the center.

But the informal partnership was occasionally tinged with difficulty. Sometimes, activists wanted to know more than the attorneys could share because of attorney-client privilege, Hines said.

"We had to say, 'This is what I can tell you and you just have to trust me,' " Valdez recalled.

Activists had to learn to accept that while they were advocating a cause, attorneys were representing the best interests of their clients, said MaryEllen Kersch, a former Georgetown mayor who attended many of the vigils and organized a public forum on family detention. Kersch said that though she understood it was best for the plaintiffs, the settlement in the 2007 lawsuit that accused the government of violating the rights of minors at the center disappointed her.

"From a reformer's point of view, it sort of took the heat off the issue and gave what was being done (at Hutto) a little bit of a cover of acceptability," Kersch said.

She said diverse groups never lost sight of their overarching goal. "We all agreed on one thing: that T. Don Hutto needed to stop putting kids in prison."; 445-3635

Monday, August 10, 2009

ACLU: Hutto Settlement Extended

ACLU Strikes Deal To Continue Humane Conditions At Hutto Detention Center
(8/7/2009; Updated 8/10/2009)

Agreement Will Remain In Place Until All Families Have Been Released

CONTACT: (212) 549-2666;

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials today struck a deal to extend an agreement requiring ICE to maintain improvements in the conditions at the T. Don Hutto family detention center in Texas and submit to external oversight until the last family is released from the facility.

The deal comes on the heels of an announcement Thursday that the government will immediately begin ending the detention of families at Hutto, the focus of 2007 lawsuits filed by the ACLU charging that children were being illegally imprisoned under inhumane conditions. The last family is expected to be released from Hutto no later than the end of the year.

"No young child should ever have to endure imprisonment in an adult prison," said Vanita Gupta, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program and a lead attorney in the Hutto litigation. "Now that the long-overdue decision has been made to end the detention of families at Hutto, the government is to be commended for wanting to ensure that the improvements in the facility's conditions that have been made during the past two years remain in place until there are no families left there."

The ACLU's lawsuits were filed on behalf of 26 immigrant children between the ages of one and 17 detained with their parents who, in almost all cases, were seeking asylum. A settlement agreement reached several months after the lawsuits were filed mandates, among a number of other things, that children be given expanded educational programming and increased recreation time outdoors. The agreement was set to expire August 29.

The decision to end family detention at Hutto was made as part of a broad government plan to improve the immigration detention system. According to the plan, officials will work to consolidate many detainees in facilities with conditions that reflect their status as non-criminals, establish more centralized authority over the system and create more direct oversight of detention centers.

The plan also calls for ICE to stop sending families to Hutto, and to relocate the remaining 127 detainees there. Some will be transferred to an 84-bed facility in Pennsylvania, while others will be considered for programs that do not require detention, such as home and electronic monitoring.

Attorneys involved in the Hutto litigation include Gupta of the ACLU's Racial Justice Program; Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project; Lisa Graybill of the ACLU Foundation of Texas; and Barbara Hines of the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic.

A copy of the stipulation is available online.

Additional information about the ACLU's Hutto litigation is available online at.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Michelle Brané: Good News on Immigration Detention But Keeping the Pressure On

We're blogging our fingers off, but here's an excellent post from long-time family and child advocate, Michelle Brané, posted at the Huffington Post:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) announcement this week that they will stop detaining families at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, is terrific news. When I first visited the facility, which is a former prison, in December of 2006 I was shocked at what I saw -- kids getting only one hour of school a day, terribly inadequate medical care, insufficient time to eat, and, worst of all, inappropriately severe discipline. (See my report: Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families.)

The facility was part of the Bush administration's plan to end what they called "catch and release." That administration gave the impression that families were swarming across the border and that smugglers were using babies as "mules" to prevent the detention of their clients. But they were never able to fill Hutto and they never to my knowledge identified a trafficked child through the new process.

What I saw at the facility were families -- mostly women, many of them pregnant, most with very young children -- who were fleeing to the United States for protection. The trek north through the desert is extremely dangerous and difficult. Many die on the journey. This is not a trip you make with your young children unless you are desperate. It also doesn't make sense to bring your toddler with you if you sole intention is to work illegally. It was clear from speaking with these women that they had real fears and valid claims to asylum.

But at Hutto they were treated as criminals, and their children were punished as well. Families slept in actual jail cells -- with prison cots and toilets in the cells. Children had some toys in the common areas but were not allowed to take anything into their cells at night. One family told me about a six-year-old child who cried when a prison guard told him he could not take the picture he had drawn into his cell. The guard yelled at him for crying, and the child's father tried to intervene. As punishment, the child and his father were separated -- to different wings of the facility -- for three days!

Following our report and the ensuing media attention and an ALCU lawsuit, the facility underwent improvements -- including providing education for the children, recreation opportunities, freedom of movement -- but family detention standards that were implemented are entirely inappropriate and still do not address issues of discipline and common decency. I couldn't be happier that families will no longer be placed in this facility. And the administration's decision is a clear indication that they are taking steps in the right direction.

I am worried though. Because the administration has made it clear that they will continue to detain families at another facility I have visited many times. The Berks County Family Shelter Care facility in Leesburg, Pennsylvania. That facility is not as blatantly disturbing as Hutto. It is a former nursing home -- not a prison. But the term "shelter" is still misleading. In 2006, I met families that had been detained there for two years. Children over five are separated from their parents at night. The same sort of disciplinary issues I mentioned above exist at Berks, too. The administration has indicated that they will be looking into alternatives to detention. I hope they mean it and I hope they do it quickly.

Advocates for immigrant rights are losing patience. The administration has been reviewing the system for six months and saying that they understand that the current criminal model of immigration detention is inappropriate for civil detainees. But they have also made it clear in statements and through their actions that they will continue aggressive enforcement operations and that they expect the detained population to grow. That means that some 440,000 immigrants and asylum-seekers are expected to be detained in the U.S. this year. We need to be realistic. We need immigration reform and that has to come from Congress.

Our current laws are unforgiving and unrealistic. We also need to be patient and give the administration time to overhaul a detention system that is a mess. I am not saying we should give them a free pass -- but my interaction with ICE headquarters since the change in administration has been positive. I think they are sincere in their desire to make the system more humane. We have no choice. We have to take a big of a leap of faith -- both sides, and work together. We can still hold them accountable -- especially if we don't see improvement. The announcement to stop using Hutto for families is the administration's attempt to show us they mean it and are trying. The former administration had been planning to increase family detention space with a request for proposals for up to three new facilities. This week, we went from fearing an increase to a cut in family bed space of 75 percent. That is pretty good.

The Obama administration has a lot more work to do to demonstrate that they mean what they say. For now, we have to trust that and do what we can to help them implement change while still holding them accountable.

CCA's response...

From Business of Detention:

CCA Welcomes Fed’s New Immigrant Detention Strategy

On the heels of Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s announcement that it will stop holding children in Corrections Corporation of America’s T. Don Hutto Detention Center, the company assured investors that they still expect plenty of business from the federal government. “In some respects there may not have been much of a change,” said Damon Hininger, CCA’s President and Chief Operating Officer during a conference call on Thursday with investors.

Hininger said CCA had “just learned yesterday that ICE wants us to renegotiate” the Hutto contract and that a timetable for the negotiations had not been set for transitioning Hutto to hold female immigrants. But he pointed to the Obama administration’s expansion of the Bush administration’s Secure Communities program as proof that demand for immigrant detention beds would continue.

Other highlights from the 2nd quarterly earnings report of the nation’s largest private prison provider:

  • Revenues increased 5.7%, and average per diem rates are up 2.3%
  • Inmate populations were larger than expected at U.S. Marshall’s facilities - likely from the ongoing Operation Streamline along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and Texas
  • During the next quarter CCA expects the commencement of a new 20-year contract with ICE to detain immigrants in a 502-bed former county jail that it just finished renovating in Hall County, Georgia
Watch for a more detailed update next week from!

Berks County Family Center full

The Reading Eagle reports that Berks County officials were unaware of ICE's policy change, and have no room for families transferred from Texas:

Federal officials announced Thursday that they were closing a detention center for immigrant families in Texas and sending the detained families to the Berks Family Shelter Care Facility in the former Berks Heim.

But nobody told Berks County. And the Berks facility is full.

County Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt, who is chairman of the county prison board, said he was unaware of the move by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Kenneth A. Borkey Jr., executive director of the Bern Township facility, which houses families awaiting immigration hearings, said the center is at capacity.

Immigration officials could not be reached for comment.

In the announcement, they said the closing of the 512-bed T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas, was the first step in shifting illegal-immigration cases from the criminal to the civil court system.

Officials said they would send detained families to the Berks facility until it was filled and then develop alternative programs, such as supervised release, to monitor families awaiting deportation hearings.

Borkey said he was drafting a memo with the bad news for the immigration agency.

"We have an 84-bed capacity and we are at capacity," Borkey said.

Borkey said he planned to notify county commissioners and consult with immigration officials about reconfiguring the building to make room for more detainee families.

The county, which signed a contract with ICE that became effective Thursday, is reimbursed $197 a day per individual.

Borkey said news of the Texas closing rattled his employees, who feared their jobs also might be in jeopardy.

"At this time the county has not been informed of any changes to our program," Borkey said.
No word yet on whether Hutto's families will, indeed, be transferred or whether ICE will allow the detained family population to shrink gradually.

Practically speaking, it seems preferable to release families on bond, parole, and recognizance and as their claims are processed through immigration courts.

Most families detained at Hutto and Berks are asylum-seeking, and are therefore eligible for various forms of release. In fact, detaining refugees and asylum-seekers in prison-like conditions is generally considered bad policy and against international law, as this can re-traumatize people fleeing persecution, abuse, violence, and torture.

What about Berks?

The numerous reports highlighting the transfer of families from Hutto to Berks have brought attention to this rather under-publicized family residential facility, and I thought I'd provide some information about Berks. (The Reading Eagle reports, however, that the Berks Family Shelter Care Center is full. See previous post.)

Berks was opened in March of 2001, as an extension of Berks County's contract with then-INS' juvenile detention program. It is located on a large tract of land in Bernville Township that holds a number of county services: recycling, water treatment, an elderly care facility, a prison, a youth corrections center, a juvenile detention center, a community college, and an agricultural center.

The family detention center is located in an old nursing home, built in the 1950s. Still called Berks Heim by locals, the facility was a state of the art residence for elderly folks that required specialized care. Built as a residence, rather than a prison, Berks has been held up as an alternative to T Don Hutto. Licensed by the state of Pennsylvania and run according to child welfar principles, Berks has not been subject to the same media or legal attention as Hutto.

But as the Women's Refugee Commission's Michell Brané pointed out in Locking up Family Values, Berks is far from perfect. In response to ICE's policy change, Brané maintains: "While conditions there were not as shocking as those at Hutto, they are not appropriate. For example, children over five, are separated from their parents at night. We believe that families should not be detained unless absolutely necessary and only for an extremely short period of time.” (See the Women's Commissions full press release here.)

Both the ACLU and the Women's Commission (as well as others) have argued the authority structure of detention is harmful to families, since it strips parents of their role as arbiters of the family unit. While much of the attention has been focused on the conditions of detention, people often forget the effects any institutional environment will have on the less tangible--but fundamental--relationships between parents and children.

Mentioned even less often is how institutionalization effects relationships between parents, since their contact is highly constrained. Married couples cannot, for example, sleep together nor show affection towards each other. These kinds of relationships require some degree of privacy, which is difficult to balance with security and authority structures inherent to institutional custody.

There is no research on this, but as human beings, we can expect that compiling the stress of filing and pursuing claims with an inability to care for each other in familiar ways will have long terms effects on family relationships. This points to the larger question, which Brané has repeated asked, about the suitability detaining any families at all.

What will happen to the families at Hutto?

Many have been asking us what will happen to the families currently detained at Hutto. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer,

Morton said the process of transferring families from Texas to Pennsylvania would begin immediately.

"For the immediate future we will use Berks to its capacity," Morton said. To the extent that ICE needs more capacity for families, he said, the agency would explore alternatives to detention, including supervised release and electronic monitoring with ankle bracelets.
ICE is not ending family detention policy, but is making use of the more humane of the two facilities and a range of non-detention forms of custody. Despite what critics have argued, this is not a "catch and release" policy, but more like a "catch and follow" policy. Families can expect to be required to call ICE at daily, weekly, or other regular intervals, to have ICE officers visit them at home or work, to be assigned electronic monitoring ankle bracelets, and other forms of supervision. Bond and parole may be used more widely, as well, which requires that families post $4-10,000 for each adult (less for children) to guarantee court appearance.

More News Coverage

Google found 791 articles reporting on ICE' changes to family and immigrant detention policy, but here are just a few. For the most part, we're all waiting for more information. Family detention at Hutto may be ending, but we have few details about how the rampant problems in the detention system as a whole will be addressed. For now, here are some words...

From Houston Chronicle: ICE will revamp detainee system, policy of using converted prisons to hold families of illegal immigrants is on its way out

Three years ago, immigrant families sent to a Central Texas immigration detention center found themselves at a converted prison rimmed in razor wire. Child inmates slept with their parents in cells monitored by lasers, stood still for daily head counts and donned navy detention uniforms available in sizes as small as infant onesies. They reported getting only one hour of school a day and going weeks without playing in the sun.

As word spread about conditions for families at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility, critics pointed to the former medium-security prison as being emblematic of problems associated with the Bush administration's immigration detention practices. ...

The detention centers have been sharply criticized in recent years amid reports of substandard medical care, detainee deaths and poor access to attorneys. Morton said the system will be revamped to get away from a penal detention model that relies heavily on contracts with correctional facilities and private industry. Within the next three to five years, he said, the agency aims to use facilities designed, located and operated specifically for immigration purposes.

“What we're trying to do is design a system that reflects the unique civil detention authorities that we're exercising,” Morton said. “The population that we detain is different than the population that is detained in a traditional prison or jail setting.” ...

Barbara Hines, an attorney who oversees the University of Texas immigration law clinic and was one of the first nonprofit attorneys to visit the Hutto facility, praised ICE's addition of monitors to oversee daily operations at larger immigration facilities.

“Having ICE monitors in prisons is a good step forward because I think in the last couple years, the expansion of detention has gotten out of control, leading to deaths and a lack of medical care,” Hines said. “But I don't think ICE is capable of policing itself.” ...

Morton stressed that ICE is not shying away from immigration detention in general. “We are going to continue to detain people, and we are going to continue to detain people on a large scale,” he said.
From the San Antonio Express-News: Detention overhaul hits Austin area site

Several years ago, the Bush administration hailed the 512-bed Hutto facility as a model center, which was operated under contract by Corrections Corp. of America.

However, a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union forced the Bush administration to make improvements to the former state prison and to make it more family-friendly.

But civil rights groups and immigrant advocacy organizations continued to call conditions at the Texas center deplorable.

“Ending family detention at Hutto is extremely welcome and long overdue,” said Joanne Lin, ACLU legislative counsel.

The ACLU said it would continue to push for reform of the immigration detention system to ensure detainees are given access to due process and not inappropriately locked up for prolonged periods of time.

[what your representatives REALLY think] Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, questioned whether the detention system changes would be a return to the controversial catch-and-release system that was ended by the creation of the detention facilities under the Bush administration.

Alternatives to detention, like supervised release and catch-and-release programs, for immigrants scheduled to be deported do not work, said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio and the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration law.

“I hope that the Obama administration will not repeat past mistakes and return to a policy that puts more illegal immigrants on the streets of American communities,” Smith said.

From the LA Times: Obama aims to overhaul immigration jail system

Pledging more oversight and accountability, the Obama administration announced plans Thursday to transform the nation's immigration detention system from one reliant on a scattered network of local jails and private prisons to a centralized one designed specifically for civil detainees.

The reforms are aimed at establishing greater control over a system that houses about 33,000 detainees a day and that has been sharply criticized as having unsafe and inhumane conditions and as lacking the medical care that may have prevented many of the 90 deaths that have occurred since 2003. ...

Immigrant rights advocates welcomed the changes but said there was still no clear policy on how detention facilities would be penalized if problems were found.

"We are encouraged that the administration is taking a hard look at what has traditionally been a dark spot in our immigration system," said Karen Tumlin, a staff attorney at the Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center. "However, only time will tell if the reforms announced today amount to lasting change or simply creative repackaging of prior policies."

Tumlin and others said the detention standards needed to be made legally binding to guarantee immigrants access to counseling, family visits, legal materials and recreation time. Legislation has been introduced aimed at accomplishing this.

Advocates also said that the government should use less punitive and less costly alternatives to detention, such as ankle bracelets or intensive supervision, for certain immigrants.

"We are very disappointed by the failure to discuss alternatives to detention in the proposal," said Ahilan Arulanantham, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "The system now detains thousands of people who are not a danger and not a flight risk."

To increase oversight, the immigration agency would place federal monitors in 23 large facilities, which house more than 40% of the detainees. The agency also plans to hire experts in healthcare administration and detention management, and someone to review medical complaints.

"We need a system that is open, transparent and accountable," Morton said.

A crackdown on illegal immigrants under the George W. Bush administration led to a dramatic increase in the detainee population, from 19,700 in fiscal year 2006 to 33,400 today. The budget for detention and deportation is nearly $2.5 billion, much of which is spent on contracts with private prison companies such as Corrections Corp. of America.

Morton said the agency did not plan to reduce the number of detainees or stop contracting with local governments and private corporations. But he said his staff would assess where detainees should be housed.

He said that many -- including some asylum seekers and those without criminal records waiting to be deported -- should be in facilities less restrictive than jails and prisons.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Austin-America Statesman: Hutto to cease detaining families

Report: Government plans to stop sending families to Taylor detention center
T. Don Hutto would be converted to facility for immigrant women, Obama Administration official says.


Thursday, August 06, 2009
The Obama administration plans to announce today that the government will stop sending families to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor — where families are held while they await adjudication of their immigration cases — as part of an overhaul of the nation's immigration detention system, The New York Times reported.

Details of the overall plan are sketchy, and even the first steps will take months or years to complete, the newspaper reported.

The plan includes reviewing the federal government's contracts with more than 350 local jails and private prisons, with an eye toward consolidating many detainees in places more suitable for noncriminals facing deportation — some possibly in centers built and run by the government.

But the government would take immediate action on Hutto, a 512-bed center run for profit by the Corrections Corp. of America under a $2.8-million-a-month federal contract.

The facility was a centerpiece of the Bush administration's approach to immigration enforcement when it opened in 2006. The decision to stop sending families there — and to set aside plans for three more family detention centers — is the Obama administration's clearest departure from its predecessor's immigration enforcement policies, the newspaper said.

Dan Kowalski, an Austin immigration attorney who represents a woman formerly housed at the Hutto facility in Taylor, welcomed the announcement.

"I'm happy to hear it. My only question is, 'What are they going to do with the people that they would have sent to Hutto?' " he said.

John Morton, who heads the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency as assistant secretary of homeland security, told The New York Times on Wednesday that Hutto will be converted into an immigration jail for women. He said that he hasn't ruled out the possibility of detaining families but that the Berks Family Shelter Care Facility, an 84-bed former nursing home in Leesport, Pa., is a better facility for those detainees.

Reached by phone Wednesday evening, Williamson County Judge Dan A. Gattis' first reaction was, "Good. My quote is: Good."

The facility has drawn unwanted attention to Williamson County. Opponents including the American Civil Liberties Union have lobbied Congress and held protests urging that the facility be closed, and citizens have spoken against it before county commissioners.

The University of Texas School of Law's Immigration Clinic and the ACLU of Texas won a settlement in a federal suit that accused the government of violating the rights of minors held at the center.

The 2007 settlement agreement ordered enforceable standards at the center, including requirements that families be able to spend an unlimited time together in their rooms with the door open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., eliminating scheduled head counts and ordered five hours of schooling per day for children, among other things. That agreement was scheduled to expire Aug. 29.

"We're happy that the administration is taking a look at its policies on family detention," said Jose Medina, a spokesman for the ACLU of Texas. "We're eagerly waiting to see what the details are. But this is clearly a positive development."

Gattis said the administration's move would take the pressure off the county, which he described as acting as a middle man between the federal government and Corrections Corp. of America. Williamson County receives about $15,800 a month under its latest 2-year contract with the company, which commissioners voted to renew in December.

"I've always said, whatever (the federal government's) policy is, we're here to help," he said. "It's really their policy, not ours."

The new policy, according to The New York Times, aims to establish more centralized authority over the detention system, which holds about 400,000 immigration detainees over the course of a year, and more direct oversight of detention centers.

The number detained at Hutto has dropped sharply, to 127 individuals from as many as 450, the newspaper said.

Additional material from staff writers Miguel Liscano and Andrea Lorenz


At 11 pm last night, the New York Times led with the following story:

The Obama administration intends to announce an ambitious plan on Thursday to overhaul the much-criticized way the nation detains immigration violators, trying to transform it from a patchwork of jail and prison cells to what its new chief called a “truly civil detention system.”

One move starts immediately: the government will stop sending families to
the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a former state prison near Austin, Tex.,
that drew an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit and scathing news coverage for putting young children behind razor wire.

“We’re trying to move away from ‘one size fits all,’ ” John
Morton, who heads the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency as
assistant secretary of homeland security, said in an interview on Wednesday.
Detention on a large scale must continue, he said, “but it needs to be done
thoughtfully and humanely.”

Hutto, a 512-bed center run for profit by the Corrections Corporation
of America under a $2.8 million-a-month federal contract, was presented as a
centerpiece of the Bush administration’s tough approach to immigration
enforcement when it opened in 2006. The decision to stop sending families there
— and to set aside plans for three new family detention centers — is the Obama
administration’s clearest departure from its predecessor’s immigration
enforcement policies. ...

Ms. Gupta said the changes at Hutto since 2006 illustrated the importance of enforceable rules. Before the A.C.L.U. lawsuit was settled in 2007, some children under 10 stayed as long as a year, mainly confined to family cells with open toilets, with only one hour of schooling a day. Children told of being threatened by guards with separation from their parents, many of them asylum-seekers from around the world.

Only through judicial enforcement of the settlement, she said, have children been granted such liberties as wearing pajamas at night and taking crayons into family cells. The settlement also required the agency to honor agency standards that had been ignored, like timely reviews of the decision to detain a family at all. Some families have been deported, but others were released or are now awaiting asylum decisions in housing run by nonprofit social service agencies.

That kind of stepped-up triage could be part of the more civil detention system envisioned by Mr. Morton and Dr. Schriro, who has been reviewing the detention system for months and is expected to report her recommendations soon.
But the Hutto case also points to the limits of their approach, advocates say. Under the settlement, parents and children accused of immigration violations were detained when possible at the country’s only other family detention center, an 84-bed former nursing home in Leesport, Pa., called the Berks Family Shelter Care Facility. The number detained at Hutto has dropped sharply, to 127 individuals from as many as 450.

Advocates noted that Berks, though eclipsed by the criticism of Hutto — the subject of protest vigils, a New Yorker article and a documentary — also has a history of problems, like guards who disciplined children by sending them across the parking lot to a juvenile detention center, and families’ being held for two years.
The Hutto legal settlement expires Aug. 29. In the most recent monitoring report last month, Magistrate Judge Andrew W. Austin wrote: “Although the use of this facility to hold families is not a violation of the settlement agreement, it seems fundamentally wrong to house children and their noncriminal parents this way. We can do better.”

Mr. Morton, a career prosecutor, seemed to agree. Hutto will be converted into an immigration jail for women, he said, adding: “I’m not ruling out the possibility of detaining families. But Berks is the better facility for that. Hutto is not the long-term answer.”

Monday, August 3, 2009

Texas Organizations Support Protext Citizens from Unlawful Detention Act & Strong STANDARDS Act

Thanks to the Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Service for circulating this letter.

July 30, 2009.

Support S. 1549, the Protect Citizens from Unlawful Detention Act, and S. 1550,
the Strong STANDARDS Act (Safe Treatment, Avoiding Needless Deaths, and
Abuse Reduction in the Detention System)

We, the undersigned organizations, urge you to support S. 1549, the Protect Citizens from Unlawful Detention Act, sponsored by Senators Gillibrand (D-NY), Kennedy (D-MA) and Menendez (D-NJ), and S. 1550, the Strong STANDARDS Act (Safe Treatment, Avoiding Needless Deaths, and Abuse Reduction in the Detention System), sponsored by Senators Gillibrand (D-NY) and Menendez (D-NJ). We represent a broad cross-section of religious, immigration, asylum/refugee, human rights, civil liberties and community groups from across the country. We call upon Congress to enact these important reforms that will ensure America’s most basic values of liberty, dignity and respect are protected for all those living on our soil.

Since 2005 the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has dramatically increased and intensified immigration enforcement, using ever increasing detentions as a poor proxy for reforming the immigration system. As a result of aggressive enforcement policies and insufficient protections in the system, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents have been mistakenly and unlawfully detained, mistreated by government agents, and deported, including at least one U. S. citizen who was deported to Mexico illegally. These troubling outcomes are a direct result of an immigration system that relies on blanket detention policies instead of targeted immigration enforcement.

With ICE detaining more than 300,000 people last year in a swollen detention system, and predicting over 440,000 individuals will be detained this year, the vast network of federal, state, local and private prisons fail to adequately provide for the basic needs of those detained by ICE. Lacking adequate process and judicial discretion, hundreds of thousands of ICE detainees, including the sick, children, pregnant women and asylum seekers, are funneled into a detention system that was not designed to handle the large numbers or the long term detentions that result from indiscriminate enforcement of unjust immigrations laws without much-needed reform. As a result, people arrested and detained by ICE are transferred across the country, far from their families and attorneys, asylum seekers spend months and sometimes years in detention, and at least 90 people have died in custody since 2003, including some in recent months.

Legislation is urgently needed to regulate and curb ICE’s sweeping and reckless enforcement actions, focusing immigration enforcement in a way that is targeted and calibrated, and detaining people only where necessary. Smart enforcement coupled with secure alternatives to custodial detention would increase efficiency in the system and could potentially save millions in detention costs and lawsuits by those wrongfully detained, deported or abused while in custody. We are heartened by Secretary Napolitano’s attention to issues surrounding conditions and medical care in immigration detention, and her appointment of Dr. Dora Schriro as Special Advisor on Detention and Removal Operations. We understand that Dr. Schriro is preparing a set of recommendations designed to address some of the most serious problems in the system, but also believe that changes need to come from Congress, delivered in a way that ensures consistency across administrations as well as proper accountability and oversight by Congress.

The Protect Citizens from Unlawful Detention Act would establish screening mechanisms so that vulnerable populations, such as children and pregnant women, and others who are swept up in immigration enforcement operations are considered for alternatives to detention. Screening mechanisms would also help prevent situations in which U.S. citizens are mistakenly placed into the immigration system. This bill would ensure that all people arrested or detained by ICE are advised of the right to access immigration counsel and are notified of the immigration charges against them. The right to know why one is being held, to retain and access counsel, and to be free from arbitrary detention are fundamental American values that reach back to the founding fathers.

The Strong STANDARDS Act (Safe Treatment, Avoiding Needless Deaths, and Abuse Reduction in the Detention System) would require DHS to provide access to adequate medical care, establish protocols when ICE transfers immigrants away from family and counsel, ensure access to functioning telephones inside detention centers, as well as many other improvements to conditions of detention. This bill also establishes an “alternatives to immigration detention” program that is more humane and cost-effective than penal-style detention, and more appropriate to the civil nature of immigration proceedings. These programs would ensure that people appear at immigration court hearings while also redirecting vulnerable populations such as pregnant and nursing women, the elderly and asylum seekers into cost-saving, community-based, non-custodial alternatives to detention.

[Please note: both bills define families with children as "vulnerable populations," qualifying them for expanded release, bond, and parole options, and limiting the use of detention and electronic monitoring for families.]

We commend Senators Gillibrand, Kennedy and Menendez for sponsoring these vital pieces of legislation at a time when fiscal responsibility and a return to the rule of law sit prominently on the list of priorities for a new administration and new Congress. Our Constitution guarantees all individuals in our country the right to due process, and we must ensure that immigration enforcement is conducted in a way that is fair, humane and cost efficient. The time for Congressional action to avoid more preventable deaths in immigration detention and more detentions and deportations of U.S. citizens is now.

Border Ambassadors, East Williamston County Democratic Club, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, Texans United for Families, Welcoming Immigrants Network