By Nick Braune
Mid-Valley Town Crier
People battle against evil in different ways. Sometimes those various efforts work together to bring change, sometimes they fail. But having different but concurrent efforts is crucial in the long haul, and I will describe three such recent efforts.
The first battle, a legal challenge: The ACLU last week forced some important changes to be made in the infamous T. Don Hutto detention center near Austin; the facility “houses” immigrants (many of them children) in cells.
Although Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, calls Hutto a “residential center” not a detention center, it was originally built as a prison. And when I covered a protest there two months ago, it still looked like a prison to me. ICE, under public pressure, had recently removed the most intimidating barbed wire, but there clearly were guards and fences.
The New York Times reported how Hutto “drew protests when it was reported that immigrant children were inadequately fed, deprived of toys and confined to cells with open toilets.” But the victorious ACLU legal challenge now requires Hutto to improve the children’s education, recreation and nutrition. Hutto must also hire a pediatrician, install privacy curtains around toilets, and allow inspections by a magistrate.
The Times noted that things started changing when protests hit and the suit was announced in March: The government (ICE, etc.) soon backed off its disgusting policy of forcing children to wear “institutional uniforms” (prison outfits), and has allowed more toys and recreational time.
My note: These immigrants have not been convicted of crimes; they are simply in violation of immigration rules or are awaiting refugee status. By international law they should not be detained as prisoners.
Although its suit won a victory, the ACLU insists it still finds Hutto “an inappropriate place” to house children. And most activists I know want it shut down completely, along with the huge detention camp for adults in Raymondville.
A second battle: some successful Valley coalition organizing. On August 23rd, seventy people gathered for a dramatic Weslaco public forum. At issue was Raymondville’s detention center (camp) where two thousand people are held in punitive conditions in huge tents.
Held at South Texas College and sponsored by the Coalition Against Immigrant Repression and other groups, the event hosted some fired-up speakers: local TV reporter Victor Castillo and immigration lawyer Jodi Goodwin from Harlingen lambasted the callous mistreatment of immigrants in Raymondville. Juan Guerra, the district attorney for Willacy County (Raymondville), exposed the financial shadiness behind the detention center and the cover-up.
Psychotherapist Kenneth Koym discussed how “labeling” can cause depression in children in places like Hutto. Rogelio Nunez, Proyecto Libertad director, spoke of a long history in the Valley of government repression and urged the youth to study that history.
Ben Browning, a young man who chained himself in civil disobedience against a detention center fence in Houston two months ago, discussed how our government displays a deep fear of people. It was an outstanding event.
A third battle against evil is one by a local poet, Shirley Rickett. She doesn’t describe her poetry as a battle, but I count it as such. (Although I’ve seen her at peace rallies, at the feisty forum last week against the detention centers, and at last week’s No Border Wall event in Mission which rallied 300 people, she describes her poetry as quiet meditation, with an audience listening.)
Rickett has researched the Holocaust and once received a grant to interview children of the Nazis in Europe. Like Kenneth Koym, mentioned above, she is concerned about children and confusion and labels. Her poetry and presentations find telling images: her own childhood confusion thinking “Pearl Harbor” was a girl’s name, young Oedipus feeling cursed, German children sewing yellow stars on their prettiest dresses.
Here is a poem (in villanelle form), perhaps meditating on Hutto, Raymondville and Nazi camps, from Rickett’s recent collection:
A prison that’s a melting pot:
Whole families live among these camps,
the people everyone forgot,
or people no one knows about,
employment for the poorest towns,
a prison that’s a melting pot.
Some say it’s true, no matter what,
two-year-olds in uniform,
the people everyone forgot.
Child, lay your head upon this cot,
never mind your will to play
in prisons that are melting pots.
” ‘Catch and release’ didn’t work,”
the mindless drone of bureaucrats
on people everyone forgot.
Tent or wall, barbed wire aloft:
“Line up” several times a day,
in prison that’s a melting pot,
the people everyone forgot.