Friday, January 23, 2009

History Marches Against T Don Hutto Family Prison in Taylor, Tx

Letter to the Editor, by Mary Ellen Kersch
Williamson County Sun, January 22, 2009.
History Marches Against T Don Hutto Family Prison in Taylor, Tx

This is truly an historic week for our Nation and the world. Tuesday we witnessed the peaceful transition of power at the highest level with the swearing-in of President Barack Obama. We moved away from demonization and divisiveness to a promise of unity, inclusivity, dignity, and responsibility. This nation came together to bring our focus, again, on the forward movement to fulfill our founders’ promise of a more perfect union.

On Monday we honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who also dedicated himself to America’s promise with non-violent action to awaken us to the voices of our better angels. His violent assassination by those who opposed that call failed to still those voices, or our dedication to following them.

The Christian concept of the brotherhood of man is integral to every great religion and it is the very basis of the American principle that all men are created equal. Barack Obama’s election marks a giant step forward in overcoming the stain that slavery has left on our body politic. Dr King’s martyrdom was, perhaps, the greatest of many sacrifices that made this historical election possible.

It is now essential that our Williamson County Commissioners Court join in the new birth of freedom promised by presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama by the simple act of removing this county from partnership in T Don Hutto family prison in Taylor.

No more can Williamson citizens partner in the jailing of non-criminal, innocent people (including little children) and justify doing so because the for-profit prison that holds them has computers and a play-scape. We are called by our American moral tradition to treat all people as we would want to be treated—as we would want our children to be treated. The fact that those people don’t look like us, or speak our language, does not justify our treating them as less than us -- and our children. And it is inconceivable that T Don Hutto prison is a place that any Williamson County citizen would approve for our own children if they were, sadly and simply, awaiting the processing of their application for citizenship and/or asylum.

Judge Gattis was quoted recently as having said that those who oppose T Don Hutto have a right to be heard, but not a right to win. Judge Gattis is wrong; we have every right to win. Our position it the moral, ethical, constitutional one. And we will win because the march of history is on our side.

Texas has had a bit of bad press lately but it is imperative for us to recall that the incredible events of this week are possible, in part, because an improbable Texan took a very risky—but principled—step in moving us to a more perfect union with his introduction of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Additionally, Williamson County citizens have a rightful pride in our place in history, reflecting the best of the American promise, as a result of Dan Moody’s defeat of the Ku Klux Klan and its assault on the rights of Williamson County citizens.

In this time, when our American electorate has rejected torture and deception and division, it is certain that history will take note of T Don Hutto family prison. How we in Williamson County are depicted by that historical account will be a reflection of whether our commissioners and Judge Gattis live up to the heroic standard of Lyndon Johnson and Dan Moody that is the essence of our wonderful Nation.

It is time for Williamson County to reclaim our moral greatness by ending our partnership in the disgraceful family prison in Taylor.

Media Coverage: Shout Out to Obama for Immigrant Rights

Univision posted video, including interviews with protestors about their message for President Obama.

The San Antonio Express-News featured this week's rally in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in San Antonio, Texas:  (picture by Delcia Lopez, S.A. Express News)

By Hernán Rozemberg

On Obama's first day on the job, immigrant advocates in San Antonio and throughout the nation rallied Wednesday, calling on him to fulfill his campaign promise to overhaul immigration policies.

Part of an effort organized by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement in the nation's capital, a group of about 35 activists gathered outside the San Antonio office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at Interstate 35 North and Loop 410 East to demand immediate changes.

The protesters, about half from San Antonio and the rest from Austin, said Obama does not need to wait on Congress to take action — he could immediately put an end to ICE work-site and home raids by signing an executive order, for example.

On the legislative front, immigration policy experts said Obama will not look for a major overhaul but tackle the issue piecemeal, trying at first to push Congress to pass previously proposed measures with bipartisan backing.

“Just like he promised to close Guantánamo Bay, we want him to close down Hutto with detained little children,” said Luissana Santibáñez with the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, referring to the ICE family detention center northeast of Austin.

Protesters also called for Obama to halt construction of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and pull back programs giving city, county and state law enforcement agencies authority to double as immigration agents.

They also asked for an about-face on “Operation Streamline,” an effort launched in Del Rio and expanded to other border areas to prosecute first-time unauthorized border crossers, a practice previously limited to suspected repeat offenders.

Asked for comment on these demands, the spokeswoman for ICE in San Antonio, Nina Pruneda, issued a statement with the agency's standard reply: ICE agents enforce the laws “professionally and humanely with an acute awareness of the impact that enforcement has on the individuals we encounter.”

Protesters insisted that it's the lack of humanity in the agency's approach that needs the most change.

They said ICE detains babies and toddlers at the Hutto detention center, and that its raids split up families, some long settled in the country.

“Our families are being terrorized,” said Iris Rodríguez, a San Antonio native now living in Austin, who edits the activist newspaperLa Nueva Raza. “We had all that talk about change — let's see it happen.”

The protest, which lasted about an hour and a half, drew two police officers who watched from their cars.

Many drivers passing by honked and gave thumbs-up signs.

But not everybody appreciated the effort — one pickup driver shouted profanities, while another, waving an American flag, cried out: “Go back home! Go back home!”

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Kick Off 100 Events to End Family Detention!

Pictures from today's Shout Out to Obama to End Family detention, immigration raids, operation streamline, border wall construction and ICE-local law enforcement collaboration.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Austin Chronicle: Lipstick on a Doberman

The Austin Chronicle's Patricia Ruland offers some welcomed analysis of the Williamson County Commissioners' rationale for renewing the T. Don Hutto contract:

On Dec. 23, the Williamson County Com missioners Court reinvented the commissioners' motives for renewing the contract for the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Tay lor, where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement incarcerates families, including children, awaiting deportation or related legal procedures. Before voting to renew a 2006 contract naming the county as administrator of the center (and Correc tions Corporation of America as operator), officials described the prison as if it were a home away from home where children laugh and play and are provided plenty of gym equipment and 22 computers.

"The international language, the smile, hasn't been removed from the children's faces," said Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison. "I talked to a little boy, and he liked it there," said Precinct 2 Commis sion er Cynthia Long. Then came a shout from the audience: "How would you like it if your child was in there?"

The court's newfound humanitarianism stood in stark contrast to its purely financial justification for signing the contract in 2005 and its panic in 2007 over possible county liability for an alleged sexual assault by a guard and employment of undocumented workers at the center. The new court perspective did little to appease the gathered protesters, who still remember when the first children were spotted in prison garb by Taylor residents and who have since sponsored vigils, walks, and forums that have fueled an international outrage over T. Don Hutto as a prison for children. Only Precinct 1 Com mis sion er Lisa Birkman broke with her past record, casting the lone dissenting vote Tuesday.
Ruland also covered Williamson County residents' responses...

During citizens' comments, area residents spoke passionately, and some broke into tears. "I was really shocked to hear about Hutto. I spread the word to any people I know," said Felix Peter Szafran. "Kids are in prison for no reason." Ann Brown noted that CCA's CEO made about $1.8 million last year "on the backs of children," adding, "This is on your conscience – this is on the conscience of everyone in William son County." Retired Methodist Bishop Joe Wilson said, "We have not honored the gracious gift of life."
Jaime Martinez, board member of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), also spoke to the Chronicle about President-elect Obama's response to family detention. We covered it last summer, and encourage everyone to make it a priority for the new Obama administration. As Martinez states in the article, Congress has appropriated funds for nonpenal family custody and other models do exist.

Leaving aside the false choice of family separation vs. Hutto, the idea that detaining families is good for children is a flimsy delusion at best. As one WilCo resident asked,

How would you like it if your child was in there?

(Photo by Jana Birchum)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ask Obama for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Last week we asked you to post questions to the Obama transition team. Well, the votes were tallied and the top three ideas from each issue area have selected for the final round.

We're asking you to vote for immigration reform and to post comments demanding the end of family detention. Let's put ending family detention in the national immigration policy debate!

This blog supports: Pass the Dream Act, Provide Relief for Families of Immigrants, and Equal Immigration Rights for Same Sex Binational Couples, because ALL FAMILIES have the right to live in peace and prosperity.

Here is how it works: Go to To vote you must log in, and if you do not currently have a user name, it takes a quick second. You get to vote for 10 ideas, in any issue area.

Voting ends January 15.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Action Alert: Include Judge Sam Sparks' conditions requirement for Hutto

Central Texas Residents: Email the county commissioners of Williamson County and urge them to include the provisions of the 2007 settlement in the contract renewal.  A message from Mary Ellen Kersch, WilCo resident:

We all know how utterly terrible and inhumane conditions were at T Don Hutto prior to the ACLU suit that resulted in  Judge Sparks requiring some very minimal changes; prisoners were wakened in the middle of the night for head count, mothers had to have their young children in the room with them when they detailed the horrors that had led them to seek asylum in this country, no toys in their rooms, spoiled food to eat, etc.

Judge Sparks' order expires in August, at which time there will be nothing to prevent the return of those horrid conditions.  WCCC approved renewal of the contract with no amendment to incorporate Sparks' mandates.  Bad as it is that they voted to renew, it is totally essential that they add those standards to the renewal.  Next Tuesday we will ask them to do that. 

Please add your voice to this tragic plea.  And tell everyone you know who has a conscience to call their commissioner and Judge Gattis, and email them.  Repeatedly.

Message to Williamson County Commissioners' Court:  If you refuse to remove Williamson County from partnering with imprisoning children, at least require Judge Sparks'  standards to be part of the renewal contract.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Ask Obama to Close Hutto

In their infinite creativity with internet engagement, the Obama team has an online forum where we, the people, can ask Obama what he will do about issues that matter to us.  His team will collect and analyze the questions and votes, so it's a great chance to vote for specific changes in policy.  There are a number of Hutto-related questions, as well as immigration and detention in general-- please log on and vote "YES!" to make ending family detention a priority for the new administration.

Once you click here, you can search the questions with keywords. "Hutto" and "immigration" will bring you to relevant questions.