Friday, March 20, 2009

Our Approach to People Keeping: The Economist Reviews 'Least of These'

Our Approach to People Keeping, from the Austin desk of the Economist...

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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

Least of These: Premiere a resounding success

The Least of These, a new documentary on the T. Don Hutto facility, opened this morning to a full house at the Alamo Ritz Theater in Austin, Texas. Congratulations to Jesse and Clark Lyda, the film's director's and to all involved in the film's production!

And guess what? The film is now available online for you to view, thanks to Snag Films! So for those of you who couldn't make it Austin's SXSW film festival, never fear...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

World Premiere: The Least of These, a new documentary on family detention in the U.S.

Please join us at one of the world premiere screenings of the documentary THE LEAST OF THESE, at SXSW 2009.

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 information about troubling conditions at the facility began to leak out, three activist attorneys sought to investigate and address the issues. In telling the story of their quest, the film explores the role (and limits) of community activism in bringing about change. The film leads viewers to consider how core American rights and values – presumption of innocence, the protection of children, upholding the family structure as the basic unit of civil society, and America as a refuge of last resort – should apply to immigrants, particularly children.

The SXSW screening schedule is as follows:

Monday March 16, 11 am, Alamo Ritz (320 E. 6th St.)
Wednesday March 18, 7 pm, Alamo South Lamar (1120 S. Lamar Blvd.)
Friday March 20, 11 am, Paramount (713 Congress Ave.)

There will be a Q&A after each screening featuring the directors, Barbara Hines of the University of Texas School of Law, Michelle Brané of the Women's Refugee Commission, and former detainees.

Admission is with a SXSW Film badge, SXSW film pass, or single ticket (available at each venue 30 minutes before the screening time; price $10.)

For more information, and the trailer, please visit

(After the premiere, the film will be distributed to the educational/institutional market by Cinema Guild, and to the home video and download-to-own markets by Indiepix. It will also be available for on-line streaming by SnagFilms.)