Tuesday, July 28, 2009

IACHR Releases Initial Reactions to Detention Center Visits

Last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur visited detention facilities in the US, including the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility (see previous post). Today, they issued a press release containing their initial impressions. Read the full press release in English and Spanish; below are exerpts addressing family detention.

Washington, D.C., July 28, 2009 - The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights completed a week of visits to various types of U.S. immigration detention facilities in Arizona and Texas. The purpose of the visit was to gather information from detention officials, detainees and civil society organizations regarding immigration enforcement, detention, and due process issues in the United States. ...

From July 20th to the 24th, a delegation from the Rapporteurship visited two unaccompanied minor shelters, a family detention facility, three adult detention facilities, and met with various representatives from civil society organizations focused on U.S. immigration issues. The delegation, headed by the Rapporteur, Felipe González, visited the Southwest Key Unaccompanied Minor Shelter (Phoenix, Arizona), the Florence Service Processing Center (Florence, Arizona), Pinal County Jail (Florence, Arizona), the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center (Taylor, Texas), the Willacy Detention Center (Raymondville, Texas), and International Education Services (IES) Unaccompanied Minor Shelter (Los Fresnos, Texas). The Rapporteurship’s delegation also met with representatives of civil society organizations focused on immigration issues in Arizona and Texas. ...

Family Detention

The delegation observed that the physical conditions and services at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center have improved since the initiation of a class action lawsuit in 2007. The Rapporteurship, however, is concerned that it required a lawsuit and ultimately a settlement agreement to bring the physical conditions and services to their current levels. The Rapporteurship took note that the judge’s July 2009 monitoring report on the settlement agreement found the Government and the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA), the Government’s privately-contracted service provider for the family detention center, only recently came into compliance on at least one of the requirements under the Settlement Agreement – nearly two years after it went into effect. It was reported to the delegation that the Settlement Agreement is set to expire at the end of August 2009. Given the slow compliance by the Government, the improvements gained under the Settlement Agreement, including more transparency in parole assessments, may deteriorate absent monitoring.

More importantly, the Rapporteurship is concerned by the Government’s broad use of detention for asylum seekers and their accompanying minor children. The Government reported that over ninety percent of the families at the Hutto family detention facility are asylum seekers and their children. While the services at the Hutto facility have improved considerably, the detention of asylum seekers and their children in the manner observed is not in compliance with the principle of the “best interest of the child” to be in the least restrictive environment or with the principles applicable to the detention of asylum seekers under international law. Asylum seekers are fleeing persecution in their country of origin and the psychological impact of detention on the asylum seekers and their children is detrimental to their well being. The Rapporteurship observed an example of an alternative to detention in the Austin, Texas area that allows asylum seekers and their children to live in a home environment while their cases proceed. The Rapporteurship was troubled to receive reports that the Government was still considering the possibility of opening three more family detention facilities. ...

They go on to express grave concerns regarding adult detention, the custody of unaccompanied minors, and the local enforcement of federal civil immigration laws. They note that "frequent sub-contracting of the staffing for the facilities to private correctional service companies create significant obstacles to providing immigrant detainees care that comports with their basic human rights." The Rapporteurship also noted the remote location of adult detention centers created staffing difficulties, which prevented adequate provision of basic medical care, food services, and so on. Further, they criticized the use of solitary confinement to "protect" vulnerable populations (e.g. homosexuals, those with mental illness, other minorities), noting that this measure "effectively punishes the victims." And while Maricopa County's now infamous racial profiling and detainee abuses drew their attention, as well, the Rapporteurship noted that local law enforcement have used coercive tactics to force noncitizens to sign immigration-related documents, without legal counsel.

As in last week's meeting with the IAHCR delegation, it is clear that human rights abuses cannot be reduced to isolated incidents, rogue guards or police officials, nor accidents of geography. Rather, it the toxic combination of private--and unaccountable--prison corporations, a tacit acceptance of rights-infringement for noncitizens, and criminalization of civil immigration violatings that allows these abuses to continue.

Monday, July 27, 2009

ACLU meets with Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about T. Don Hutto facility

On July 20, 2009, the ACLU, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, Texans United for Families (that's us), Grassroots Leadership, attorneys representing Hutto detainees, and researchers from the Center for Public Policy Priorities met with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) at the Texas ACLU office in Austin. The meeting followed a press conference at the University of Texas Law School. Both events highlighted the expiration of the 2007 settlement that dramatically improved conditions at Hutto.

Who is the IACHR? They are the independent, judicial arm of the Organization of American States, the supranational organization that oversees foreign relations in the Western Hemisphere. They seek to enforce human rights under the American Convention of Human Rights (ACHR). Find out more here.

Why the IACHR? The IACHR hears cases on human rights violations that have no further legal recourse in the country in question, and can only hear cases from countries that have ratified the ACHR. However, they also receive petitions to investigate and report on specific themes or problems, outside of a specific case. In 2007, they received a petition to investigate family detention and conditions of federal custody for unaccopmanied minors in the US. Due to onerous preconditions set by the Bush administration, they could not perform their duties.

The IACHR delegation visited the Hutto facility as part of a larger investigation into allegations of human rights violations in the U.S. immigration enforcement system.

The 2+ hour discussion revolved around:
  • the lack of licensing, external oversight of Hutto's conditions, and enforcability of ICE's existing standards.
  • the long detention stays for asylum-seekers, who are fleeing abuse, torture, and trauma.
  • the ongoing expansion of private detention facilities in remote locations, which prevents detainees from accessing legal counsel, know-your-rights orientations, and social services available in urban areas.
  • the color-coding of detainees, and the security measures that accompany this system, which results in the lock-down of detention centers.
  • limited medical and mental health care (often 1 hour per week) that is a direct result of for-profit prison companies' desire to keep costs low, rather than provide full-time medical care.
  • routine sexual abuse of female detainees, in detention centers and by border patrol officers.
  • care for unaccompanied children.
  • increased federal prosecution of noncitizens for immigration-related offenses (e.g., document fraud), which as resulted in the separation of husbands and wives from their families and increased jail time.
  • serious due process concerns surrounding these prosecution, in which 20+ noncitizens are prosecuted "in batches," represented by a single federal defender.
  • the lack of discretion afforded immigration judges to issues stays of deportation or visas to parents with US citizen children with serious needs.
Information collected from these meetings and detention center visits will go into an IAHCR report on immigration enforcement, to be published later this year.

The IACHR has long been concerned with conditions in US immigration detention centers, but has been rebuffed in its requests to collect information. (The US has not ratified the American Declaration of Human Rights.) The delegation showed much interest and concern over the sharp rise in immigration-related complaints received by the IACHR in recent years. In addition, the delegation expressed deep concern over the lack of due process that continues to plague the detention system in the US.

We'll be sure to post the report and advocates' reactions to it here, so stay tuned.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Texans Protest Williamson County's Hutto Contract

On Tuesday, July 28, Williamson County residents will attend the weekly County Commissioners Court session (9:15 am, 710 Main Street, Georgetown, Tx). The county continues to serve as the intermediary between the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). County residents are outraged that, despite a federal lawsuit and loads of bad press, the county continues to facilitate the detention of families.

County residents are especially concerned that when the legal settlement between the ACLU/University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic and ICE expires in August, there will be no enforceable oversight. As the contractor, Williamson County is liable to ICE for violations and infractions at the facility.

While the facility has been much improved by the stipulations of the settlement (overseen by regular visits from a federal magistrate) Williamson County residents and the families' attorneys remain gravely concerned about conditions at T. Don Hutto. Two facts remain. First, ICE's Family Residential Standards are based on policies used at adult prisons, making them an inappropriate model for the care of families. Second, these standards are not enforceable. That means that CCA and Williamson County can fall out of compliance with little legal recourse by families detained there. While this may be legally convenient for the contractors, it does not release them from the responsibility for the care and welfare of families at Hutto.

For some Williamson County residents, T. Don Hutto is a bad deal for the county, places too much liability on their shoulders, and generates too much bad press for the home towns. They call on the Commissioners' Court to end the contract and close Hutto down.

Least of These: Premieres in New York and Georgetown, Tx

Clark Lyda and Jesse Lyda's renowned film, The Least of These, will premiere in NYC at the New York International Latino Film Festival. And next Monday, it will show in Georgetown, Texas, county seat of Williamson County, home of the T. Don Hutto Center and holder of the federal contract to detain families.

Monday, July 27, 7 pm Georgetown Public Library, Hewlett Room, 402 West 8th, Georgetown, TX.
Contact Susan Wukasch 868-2586/963-3969.

Wednesday, July 29, 8:30 pm
Clearview Cinemas Chelsea, 260 W. 23rd, between 7th & 8th Ave., NY, NY.
Followed by Q & A with Vanita Gupta (ACLU), Michelle Brané (Women's Refugee Commission), and the film's directors.
Tickets: $12~~Buy in advance here.
Followed by special film reception at Sala One Nine, located at 35 West 19th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue
(just bring your ticket stub).