Saturday, June 27, 2009

House of Representatives Report on DHS Appropriations, 2010

A House of Representatives report on the Department of Homeland Security's 2010 appropriations dedicates a section to Child and Family Detention, Alternatives to Detention, and unaccompanied children in ICE custody in its review of Immigration and Customs Enforcement activities. On family detention, in particular, the Appropriations Committee

believes that detention is not generally appropriate for families and is concerned that the Department does not routinely make Alternatives to Detention available to families it takes into custody. In addition, while the Committee is pleased that ICE developed and implemented detention standards for families held in its custody, it remains concerned that ICE family detention standards are based on adult prison standards. The Committee directs the Department to prioritize the use of Alternatives to Detention program for families who do not need to be held in immigration detention. The Committee further directs the Office of Professional Responsibility to conduct a review of families detained in ICE custody since 2007 and determine whether ICE complied with its own internal guidance for when to hold families in custody and when to release them to Alternatives to Detention programs. The Committee directs ICE to report on the results of this review no later than the submission of the 2011 budget.

In addition, the Committee has heard reports of ICE prosecutors inappropriately using personal information about children when presenting cases in immigration court, such as medical records and psychological reviews. The Committee directs ICE to respect the privacy and confidentiality of detained children's case information, including privileged medical, psychological and social worker reports, and only to request access to those files when relevant to the case.

Congress appears to be hearing us on the key issues--prison-like conditions, lack of accountability, inadequate use of alternatives, and long stays in detention. As we near the August expiration of the Hutto Settlement, and the federal district court oversight that goes along with it, these issues are critical to families detained at Hutto.

While this report does not go as far as ending family detention (nor could it), it is encouraging that Congress find detainings families with children increasingly distasteful. It's time to keep the pressure on. Immigration reform is on the horizon, and reforming the detention system must be a key part of this conversation!

Thanks to Adrienne for bring this to our attention!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Press Coverage of June 20 World Refugee Day Vigil

Thanks to all who turned out last Saturday! Here's a rundown of the press coverage...

The Williamson County Sun carried an article on the protest (see above).

Protestors ask President to shut down T. Don Hutto Russell Wilde, News 8 Austin.

The demonstraters called for the president to shut down the detention center, where refugees, including children, are held. "Immigration has a lot of challenges to it. I think we all realize there are situations we need to confront, but that these people, particularly the children, shouldn't be bearing the brunt of that," [St. Andrew's Presbyterian church minister Jim] Rigby said.

Immigration officials said the center allows them to enforce the law while allowing families to stay together.

Protesters said the people being held in the center are refugees and should not be held in a former prison.

"A message to our president to free the children. It's a message to our president to do it now," Johnson-Castro said. "That's a change we can believe in. It's a change we need."
Texans March Against Hutto Family Detention Center on World Refugee Day, MediaHacker via YouTube.

Three videos, Social Justice TV via YouTube. **Newly added** 2 videos on the vigil, by CECLEF. AND 2 videos from closehuttodown.

Houston Indymedia has a video and and photo coverage, which you can also read at the Houston Students for a Democratic Society blog.

Thank y'all, and keep sending things my way!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Diana Claitor: "We need to show the world we don't approve"

Diana Claitor of the Texas Jail Project, posting at The Rag Blog, calls on Austinites "to take every chance to show the feds and the world that we don’t approve, that we are not okay with refugee mamas and their babies and kids being incarcerated in a prison camp while their cases are decided."

She continues: " basic truth applies: it’s just not right. More humane and less-costly alternatives exist that keep families together and out of prison-like detention centers. A study by the Vera Institute found that more than 90% of immigrants on a supervised release program attended their immigration hearings. The average cost of a supervision program is $12 a day compared to reportedly over $200 a day to detain a person at Hutto."

Now's the time, Texans! Join us next week and show the world the US is better than family detention. Details above...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Austin City Council World Refugee Day Resolution

Austinites! Contact your councilperson and urge them to support refugees, migrants, and the rights of children in Austin and around the world. Special thanks to Free the Children for their advocacy!

Free the Children
Proposed Draft World Refugee Day Proclamation
Revised June 8, 2009

Be it known that,


The City of Austin recognizes that the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,


On World Refugee Day, we turn our attention to the millions of refugees who live without material, social and legal protection.


The Convention on the Rights of the Child is an internationally recognized agreement between nations that establishes a comprehensive set of goals for individual nations to achieve on behalf of their children.


We are willing to join in harmony with voices worldwide to claim more reasonable and humane immigration policies.

The City of Austin, as a leader in the global community of urban centers, does


1. June 20 the day to recognize and celebrate World Refugee Day;

2. Support for the ratification of the United Nations Covenant on the Rights of the Child; and

3. Compassion for a just and viable alternatives to institutional detention of children and families within these United States and elsewhere, while such families await administrative resolution of their immigrant status.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009 covers CCA reactions to Hutto Criticism

Hispanic Nashville interviews Louise Grant, public relations officer for, CCA's new website aimed at improving CCA's public image. Should we take it as a compliment that CCA has an image problem?

The Hispanic Nashville Notebook asked CCA how the company views the detention of children and families, or allegations of overincarceration - and whether the board or the company wrestles with the moral issues raised by opponents, or whether there is a limit to the kind of policies the company is willing to help implement. Here is the response of CCA VP of Marketing and Communications Louise Grant:

Our government customers don't ask us our opinions on the moral implications. ... They make public policy decisions. ... Once those decisions have been made, they decide "Is the public government sector going to manage these individuals, or is the private sector?" ... We are not in the business of making moral decisions on U.S. public policy. ... Where we can have an influence is in our own facilities.

When describing the moment when ICE approached CCA to turn Hutto into a family facility, Grant said that CCA initially turned the government down:

Grant: Specifically in regard to Hutto, I can say our customer - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, again, they have been our customer for 25 years, they trust us - they came to us and asked us to operate a family detention center. We said no initially.

Hispanic Nashville Notebook: Why was that?

Grant: We said we have not had that expertise before - you know, we've managed adults. We've had a few juvenile facilities, but we have not managed a family detention center. Obviously, there was only one at the time in the country, in Pennsylvania, and we said no. And ICE came back to us and said, we've made the public policy decision that we are going to do this, and we want to partner who we trust; you've been a good partner for 25 years; we know you have high standards, you have integrity and strong ethics, and we would like you to do this. And we knew it was going to be an evolutionary process, because it was new for ICE and it was new for us, but we said OK we will do this. And we knew that there would be scrutiny. There was obviously the concern about safety and security to say, how can we ensure the absolute safest, most humane environment for these individuals. And our staff, who already goes through very rigorous training, went through a great deal more specialized training, and all of our counselors. And it has been an evolutionary process.

I've been to that facility several times. The warden Evelyn Hernandez is a wonderful woman from Puerto Rico who has the greatest sensitivity, and her staff has the greatest sensitivity to the mothers and the children and the fathers. We do believe that keeping those children with their families is something we're proud of. Again, we've worked extremely hard not to get involved in the public policy decisions...

...and check out the great timeline at the end of the full article.

LULAC Returns CCA Sponsorship

Elaine Wolf of the San Antonio Current blogs about LULAC's relationship with Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison corporation that runs TDH: (read the full piece)

As a growing coalition of activists prepares for what they hope will be the most high-profile protest yet at the immigrant-family detention center in Taylor, Texas, fellow activists are challenging LULAC over sponsorship monies received from the private company that runs the prison. ...

LULAC National Treasurer Jaime Martinez, a longtime San Antonio labor activist, says that when he was made aware of the sponsorship, he and President Rosa Rosales immediately initiated the return of the $10,000 that year.

"We don't want any sponsorships from CCA," said Martinez, calling the money "tainted."

LULAC National Executive Director Brent Wilkes confirms Martinez's account, and says he believes the CCA money was returned in 2007, the last year that LULAC accepted sponsorship money from CCA for its conference. Previous years' funds were not returned, he said, in part because they were probably already spent.

Prior to the Hutto conflict, says Wilkes, LULAC found many things to like about CCA, including a program the corporation initiated to give Mexican Nationals who would face deportation upon release from prison the opportunity to obtain the equivalent of a GED. Wilkes says he believes the CCA sponsorship money was for a Latino law-enforcement awards breakfast held at the conference.

"But when we found out about the Hutto facility," Wilkes said, "we returned the funds."

"We felt very strongly that we didn't want to be associated with that," he added.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Congressional Screening of "Least of These"

Please join the Women’s Refugee Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union for a Congressional screening of “The Least of These,” a remarkable new documentary on our efforts to improve and eliminate the detention of immigrant parents and their children.

Date: June 10, 2009

Location:  The Capitol Visitor Center, South Congressional Meeting Room

Time: 6:00 pm

Featuring Remarks by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34th) and Representative Lynn C. Woolsey (CA-6th)

RSVP required to Sharita Gruberg (sharitag at wrcommission dot org)

(seating for the general public will be limited; refreshments will be provided)

By telling the powerful stories of detained families and their American advocates, the film draws attention to one of the most controversial aspects of U.S. immigration policy.  There will be a Q&A following the screening featuring advocates Michelle BranĂ© (Women’s Refugee Commission), Vanita Gupta (ACLU) and Clark Lyda, one of the film’s directors.