Have you heard of this facility?
In May 2006, the Department of Homeland Security opened its first prison for immigrant families 30 miles north of Austin. It is the first family detention center in the country to be based on the penal model, though plans were quickly made to build more.
The T Don Hutto facility holds men, women (some pregnant), children, and infants, none of whom have a criminal past. Administered by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country's largest for-profit corrections company, Hutto lacks proper licensing and medical facilities, and has been proven to traumatize families.
Until a settlement resulting from the action of the ACLU, all of the "residents" (actually inmates) wore uniforms, even the infants. But let me quote from the ACLU itself on the improvements that occurred only after a lawsuit was brought against CCA:
Conditions at Hutto have gradually and significantly improved as a result of the groundbreaking litigation. Children are no longer required to wear prison uniforms and are allowed much more time outdoors. Educational programming has expanded and guards have been instructed not to discipline children by threatening to separate them from their parents.
In addition to making those improvements permanent, the settlement also requires ICE to provide, among other things:
- allow children over the age of 12 to move freely about the facility
- provide a full-time, on-site pediatrician
- eliminate the count system which forces families to stay in their cells 12 hours a day
- install privacy curtains around toilets
- offer field trip opportunities to children
- supply more toys and age- and language-appropriate books
- improve the nutritional value of food
ICE must also allow regular legal orientation presentations by local immigrants’ rights organizations; allow family and friends to visit Hutto detainees seven days a week; and allow children to keep paper and pens in their rooms. ICE’s compliance with each of these reforms, as well as other conditions reforms, will be subject to external oversight to ensure their permanence. [my emphasis]
Remember, all of these improvements happened only because of litigation. CCA couldn't have cared less about providing such necessities had they not been threatened. I suppose we shouldn't really be surprised that when a prison-operating corporation runs a facility, it tends to be, well, a prison.
The ACLU's suit was settled in August. But way back in February, there had been enough disgust and protest that the prison conducted a tour for news media to show that
Once all the barbed wire comes down, Gary Mead, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, said, “it’s going to look more like a community college with a very high chain-link fence.”
Look at this and tell me what you think about this statement. Worse, let me quote from a report by the Women's Commission for Refugee Women & Children and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, "Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families":
In the medical wing, for example, pregnant detainees were X-rayed with no lead screen; detainees received dental work without anesthesia; pregnant women were not allowed milk and were shackled when taken outside the facility for checkups. Additionally, the report reveals that overheated water scalded children at times. To punish children deemed unruly, guards "would turn up the air conditioning so that the room became very cold" and would turn off hot water for bathing, the report states. But the worst offense was that so-called errant parents and their children lived under the threat of being separated.
There has been at least one documented case of a sexual assault of a detainee by a guard, and in an irony not really that surprising, undocumented workers have been proven to work for the CCA at Hutto. Apparently, Williamson County's only concerns revolve around possible liability issues stemming from these outrages.
Don't kid yourselves: with the rabid anti-immigrant sentiment today (anti- brown immigrants, of course), we'll see more of these "residential facilities," and they'll all be sold to us as ways to keep families together. In reality, they are just one more way to intimidate the brown hordes and play to the nativist, xenophobic elements of the far right. I am frightened and chilled to think that the United States of America has sunk so low.
You can help. Sign the petition. Visit the Texans United for Families action page. E-mail your elected officials and ask them to agitate for a more humane way to deal with families whose immigrant status is in limbo. And please tell everyone you know about this horrific reality in today's America.