THE Associated Press reported yesterday that according to a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement database, there were 32,000 detainees in custody in January, about 19,000 of whom have no criminal convictions and some of whom have been there for more than a year. The idea is that detainment helps ensure compliance with court hearings, but the problem is that detainees aren't guaranteed lawyers, or speedy hearings, so you have people, including children, being held in a quasi-prison-ish environment. In some cases, they are actually being held in converted prisons. That is the case at the Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas. The centre opened in 2006, and in 2007 the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic sued the government for housing children in substandard conditions. "The Least of These", a documentary about Hutto and some of the families detained there, premiered at SXSW this year.
The lawsuit yielded a settlement which entailed numerous reforms and improvements at Hutto—commendable work by the ACLU and the Immigration Law Clinic (and the protestors who helped call media attention to Hutto). A quibble: I would say it muddies the picture when all the world's problems are attributed to Republican malfeasance. The film opens with a clip of George Bush, and cuts to Ann Coulter and Pat Buchanan, which in this case seems to be shorthand for "what you are about to see will arouse your righteous liberal ire."
A reporter once asked the late Tony Snow, who was White House press secretary at the time, whether the detainees couldn't be held in some other sort of facility. "Such as?" he responded. "A sports stadium?" He was right: the government hasn't figured out the way to house families, whether they're detained immigrants or hurricane victims. The film suggests a couple of alternatives for immigrants, such as releasing them and requiring them to check in with a sort of parole officer. That would cost the state much less, but then it's not clear how easily a poor immigrant with young children and no legal standing can find a safe and affordable place to live while awaiting the hearing. The entire film can be viewed online and is worth watching as the issue of detainee treatment is obviously ongoing.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Our Approach to People Keeping, from the Austin desk of the Economist...
Posted by TUFF Coalition