For hard-working English-language coverage of border issues, Steve Taylor’s Rio Grande Guardian is your essential one-stop shop. On Tuesday Taylor emailed an advisory with two headlines that touch two poles of border reform. One headline reports the ACLU challenge to immigrant detention policies, another headline announces that Brownsville city authorities are out to remake their border city. We see hope in the combination, and so we archive these stories below–gm
ACLU challenges detention of immigrant children in Texas facility
AUSTIN – The American Civil Liberties Uni*n filed lawsuits Tuesday on behalf of ten immigrant children, challenging their detention at the T. Don Hutto facility in Taylor , Texas .
The lawsuits charge that the children are being imprisoned under inhumane conditions while their parents await immigration decisions.
The lawsuits have been filed against Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, as well as six officials ICE.
“There is simply no justification for imprisoning innocent children who pose no threat to anyone,” said Vanita Gupta, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program.
“This is an affront to our core values as a nation. We need practical, realistic immigration policy, not draconian methods that are harming vulnerable kids.”
The lawsuits charge that by operating the Hutto facility, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement violates its duty to meet the minimum standards and conditions for the housing and release of all minors in federal immigration custody set forth in a 1997 settlement agreement in the case of Flores v. Meese.
There are approximately 400 immigrants currently detained at the Hutto facility, and half of them are children. Many of the immigrants are refugee families who came to the United States to seek asylum.
The 512-bed former state prison is operated by Corrections Corporation of America under a contract with Williamson County.
According to 16-year-old Egle Baubonyte, a Lithuanian girl being held at Hutto with her mother and sister, “Conditions for little kids or even babies are really bad. There’s no pediatrician. Nurses don’t care about if babies are sick. They treat us like we’re nothing.”
Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said that what ICE calls a “Family Residential Facility” is in fact a converted medium-security prison that is still functionally and structurally a prison.
Children are required to wear prison garb, receive only one hour of recreation a day, Monday through Friday, and some children did not go outdoors in the fresh air the whole month of December, 2006, according to legal papers filed Tuesday.
They are detained in small cells for 11-12 hours each day where they cannot keep food and toys and they have no privacy, even when using the toilet.
Despite their urgent needs, many children lack access to adequate medical, dental, and mental health treatment, and are denied meaningful educational opportunities, Romero said.
Guards frequently discipline children by threatening to separate them permanently from their parents, and children are prohibited from having contact visits with non-detained family members.
“While keeping families together is a laudable goal, there is nothing about Hutto that one can call non-penal or homelike. ICE claims that it opened Hutto to keep families together, but imprisoning families this way cannot be what Congress had in mind,” Romero said.
The families represented in the lawsuits come from countries including Lithuania , Canada , Haiti , Honduras , Somalia , and Guyana , and many have fled dangerous situations and are seeking asylum in the United States .
Barbara Hines, clinical professor of law with the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic, said that regardless of where minors are housed, they ought to be guaranteed basic educational, health, and social benefits and rights.
“ICE fails miserably to meet the required standards by placing children at Hutto,” Hines said. “These children, who can safely be released with their families under reasonable supervision, are basically imprisoned under conditions that do not meet generally accepted child welfare and juvenile justice standards. It is truly a disgrace.”
The ACLU is bringing the lawsuits along with the ACLU of Texas, the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic and the international law firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae LLP.
“The choice is not between enforcement of immigration laws and humane treatment of immigrant families. There are various alternatives under which both can exist,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas.
The public started becoming aware of the Hutto facility last December following a vigil organized by the ACLU and Grassroots Leadership, a group that monitors the private prisons industry.
Among the participants in the vigil and a walk from Austin to Taylor was Jay Johnson Castro, Jr., who became known as the Border Wall-ker when he walked from Laredo to Brownsville last October in protest at federal plans to build an extra 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Johnson Castro said detaining OTMs was “good business” for privatized prison systems.
“They receive about $95 a day of our tax money per inmate. There are kick-backs to the counties that host these facilities, with counties getting $1 per inmate per day. That translates to hundreds of thousands of dollars to the county coffers per year,” he said.
Johnson Castro has since walked from Abilene to Haskell in protest at a detention center in Haskell.
ICE officials have repeatedly denied that the detainees are treated inhumanely.
Treviño launches new ten-year plan for Brownsville
BROWNSVILLE – With a new logo, Imagine Brownsville! It’s our Future, Imagine Brownsville! Es Nuestro Futuro, Brownsville Mayor Eddie Treviño, Jr., on Tuesday announced a ten-year plan for his fast growing city.
Treviño said the plan would establish a common vision, based on quality of life and economic development objectives. He said it would also include a strategic blueprint to achieve long term success through leveraging the City’s institutional, natural, human and infrastructure resources.
“The City of Brownsville has experienced tremendous growth in the last few years. While this growth has created tremendous opportunities, it has also presented a number challenges to the community,” Treviño said.
He acknowledged the City and the region are in the midst of increasing global competition for new jobs and investment. Competition will be strong and fierce, he predicted, with some regions winning and some losing.
“We will not be one of the losing regions and to improve our chances for winning, I believe that a single comprehensive plan that defines a common vision over the next 10 years will help ensure that we improve our City’s chances for economic success.”
Treviño launched Imagine Brownsville! at a press conference in Commissioner’s Court. More than 100 people attended, including four city commissioners, and Cameron County Commissioners Sofia Benavides and John Wood.
The fact-finding part of the plan would cost around $800,000, Treviño told reporters
Treviño said he wanted all the citizens of Brownsville, along with key community institutions, to help the City develop and implement the new plan. He said he also wanted neighbors like Los Fresnos CSD and the City of Matamoros to play their part.
Treviño said the new logo refle
“both the rich heritage of our bilingual community as well as the realization that we cannot be successful in this effort without the help of our entire community and our institutional partners working together.”
He said intensive public participation and community involvement would take place in the next few months to help define shared objectives and vision – “how we want to live, learn, work and play in the future,” he said. This will include four public meetings and interviews with over 40 community leaders and stakeholders.
Ben Medina, director of planning and community development for the City, said a new Web site, http://www.imaginebrownsville.com, has been created and will be launched Wednesday.
“It will provide details of meeting locations and times. It will be bilingual and contain updated information related to the plan’s phases and its progress. It will allow anyone to submit input throughout the process and will have the ability to download all presentations made at public meetings,” Medina said.
Treviño said another key component of the plan was establishing an Imagine Brownsville! Task Force.
“The purpose of the Task Force is to provide leadership and guidance from the plan’s development through its implementation,” Treviño said. “The task force will be composed of local leaders working together with subcommittee work groups that represent each of the master plan elements.”
A consulting team of planners, engineers, architects, economists and public involvement specialists will provide technical support for the project and the task force, Treviño said.
Treviño said Fred Rusteberg, president and CEO of International Bank of Commerce in Brownsville, will chair the Imagine Brownsville! Task Force.
“We are fortunate to have Mr. Rusteberg at the helm of this important project. He has spent the last 25 years participating in Brownsville’s progress and development and to his credit much of our success is due to his vision,” Treviño said.
Rusteberg was founding chairman of “Brownsville First,” a grassroots effort to pass a half-cent sales tax for economic development.
A past chairman and one of the founders of the Brownsville Economic Development Foundation, Rusteberg helped create the Brownsville Economic Development Council, of which he is past chairman. He was recently named Brownsville’s Outstanding Citizen of the Year by the Historic Brownsville Museum.
Rusteberg said he was honored to have been asked to lead the initiative.
“Brownsville is a unique community,” he said. “We are at the epicenter of a tremendous wave of economic opportunity. Our City forefathers have provided Brownsville with tremendous institutional and infrastructure assets and we owe it to them and future generations that we develop a strategic plan that catapults Brownsville as the premier business center of the southern U.S. border.”
Rusteberg said the Imagine Brownsville! Task Force would spend the next two weeks calling upon individuals to join the task force.
“I am going to ask everyone involved to roll up their sleeves and work together and with extensive community input hopefully we’ll create a road map for Brownsville to succeed over the next 10 years and beyond,” he said.