Close Hutto: First Anniversary Vigil

Candlelight Vigil for Families in Detention

T. Don Hutto prison in Taylor, Texas

Sunday, December 16

pre-vigil walk, 2pm

speakers and vigil, 4-6pm

The T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas, is a for-profit prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America, through an Inter-Governmental Service Agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Williamson County. Since May 2006, immigrant families, about half of them children, have been jailed in the facility while they await asylum or immigration hearings. The prison has been criticized by human rights organizations worldwide as an inappropriate facility for children. An incident involving an “inappropriate sexual relationship” between a CCA staff member and a detainee, and one where an eight-year-old girl was left without her mother for four days have increased scrutiny of Hutto in recent months.

Hutto is not an immigration solution or a national security solution; it merely uses these pressing issues as an excuse for CCA, Williamson County, and countless politicians to enrich themselves on the misery of powerless people. At an occupancy rate of 400 (maximum capacity is 512), CCA pulls at least $7,000 per month per prisoner, or $28,000 for a family of four. The cost to shelter and feed the same family at the Austin Hilton for a month? $14,934, featuring real beds and an enclosed bath in place of prison bunks and a mid-cell commode.

According to studies conducted by the Vera Institute, more humane alternatives, which ICE detailed in a March 2007 memo, are up to fifty percent more cost-effective. A vast majority of immigrants attend their hearings when enrolled in alternative supervisory programs.

Please join immigrant rights advocates, residents of Williamson County, and members of many faith communities in a vigil for families detained at the Hutto prison. The main program will begin at 4:00 pm, with the candlelight vigil starting as the sun sets at 5:00 pm. A walk to the facility from downtown Taylor’s Heritage Park starting at 2:00 pm will precede the vigil.

Advocates will also be gathering toys, music players, and books to give to families detained at the prison. Toys must be in their original packaging and cannot be wrapped.

Schedule of Events

Pre-Vigil:

2:00pm- Walk From Heritage Park in Taylor (4th & Main) to T. Don Hutto Prison

3:00pm- Gather at T. Don Hutto (1001 Welch) for protest and music.

Vigil Events:

4:00pm – Program with speakers focusing on the immoral detention of families.

5:00pm- Candlelight Vigil and silent remembrance of families in detention.

Please contact Jose Orta at (512) 365-2143 or Bob Libal at (512) 971-0487 or blibal@grassrootsleadership.org for information regarding the vigil.

Organizations Call for End to Detaining Immigrant Families

Groups Demand That ICE Prioritize Release and Alternatives

AUSTIN — A broad coalition of more than 65 national, state, and local immigrant, civil rights, and faith organizations today called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to end the practice of detaining immigrant families, including small children and infants.

In an open letter to ICE director John Morton, the groups urge ICE to prioritize release and alternatives to detention for immigrant families awaiting asylum or immigration hearings. ICE has issued a Request for Proposals for 100 new family detention beds in Texas in a closed, secure facility. The new detention center would replace the Berks County Family Shelter Care Center in Pennsylvania, which will be closed in March.

“In the last 10 years, our government has created a large-scale immigration lock up system that pulls in thousands of the country’s most vulnerable, including asylum seekers and families with children, at enormous cost to the U.S. taxpayer,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas. “Putting innocent children in jail is not just bad policy – it is inhumane and un-American, and it is time for the government to stop.”

The current Request for Proposals seeks submissions for closed, secured facilities. A 2007 report by the Women’s Refugee Commission and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service that examined the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas and the Berks facility concluded that both facilities place families “in facilities modeled on the criminal justice system, with little regard to national and international standards for the care and protection of children and families.”

The Hutto detention center, where ICE housed families from 2006 to 2009, became a national embarrassment as reports emerged that children as young as eight months old were forced to wear prison garb, locked in prison cells, denied adequate food, and threatened with separation from their parents if they cried too much or played too loudly. The Hutto detention center was the subject of a lawsuit, a human rights investigation, multiple national and international media reports and a national campaign to end family detention.

“We are acutely disappointed in the Obama Administration for continuing the needless detention of families,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership. “The Obama Administration took positive steps in rolling back family detention in 2009 by releasing families from the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas, and canceling a solicitation for three new family detention centers,” the signatories wrote to ICE. “The closure of the Berks facility is an excellent opportunity for the administration to continue to demonstrate its commitment to detention system reform by ending the practice of detaining families for once and for all.”

“We call on the administration to prioritize release of immigrant families in all cases. We urge the administration to assign social workers to manage families’ cases rather than placing them in detention. For families without housing, the administration should partner with non-profit shelter or child welfare organizations experienced in supporting asylum-seeking and immigrant families to resolve any issues preventing the direct release of families. Social workers with proven track records providing family and child welfare services offer the only appropriate expertise for supporting families in civil immigration proceedings.”

“Most of these families are asylum seekers or victims of violence. They are very vulnerable and often have no place to go.NGO’s are willing to work with ICE to develop shelter options that are both humane and more cost effective than closed detention,” says Michelle Brané of the Women’s Refugee Commission.

Signatories to the letter include American Civil Liberties Union, America’s Voice Education Fund, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Center for Constitutional Rights, Detention Watch Network, DreamActivist.org, Grassroots Leadership, Human Rights First, Human Rights Defense Center, Justice Strategies, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, National Immigration Forum, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Religious Institute, Rights Working Group, Southern Poverty Law Center, United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, Women’s Refugee Commission, and 50 state and local organizations from across the country.

To read the full letter and the list of signatories, please visit www.grassrootsleadership.org

Geoffrey Valdez: Why We're Opposed to the Karnes Immigrant Detention Center

Remarks of Geoffrey Valdes at the Austin, TX action in support of World Refugee Day, June 20, 2011.–gm

Good evening. My name is Geoffrey Valdes and I’m a member of Texans United for Families.

Mi nombre es Geoffrey Valdes y soy miembro de Texanos Unidos para las Familias.

Late last year we became aware of plans carried out almost in secret to build a new immigrant detention center in Karnes County, southeast of San Antonio.

El año pasado descubrimos planes llevado casi en secreto para construir un nuevo centro de detenciones de inmigrantes en el Condado de Karnes, al sureste de San Antonio.

This new detention center is scheduled to be opened in early 2012 and would hold 600 immigrant men, primarily those termed “low risk” by ICE. The Karnes Detention Center is being constructed by The Geo Group, a private prison company formerly known as Wackenhut. It is also being touted by ICE as a new “civil” detention center, with supposed better conditions that the other detention camps run by ICE and their private sector henchmen. Once the Karnes detention center is built, ICE has plans for five more similar centers to be built across the county.

Tiene planeado abrir este nuevo centro de detenciones al principio de 2012 tiene capacidad para 600 hombres inmigrantes, la mayoría llamado “bajo riesgo” por ICE. La corporación GEO, una compañía privada de prisiones, son quienes tienen el contrato. ICE propone este centro como un Nuevo centro civil de detenciones, con condiciones supuestamente mejor que los otros centro de detenciones. Una vez construida el centro de Karnes, ICE tiene planes para construir cinco más centros parecidos a través del país.

We oppose the Karnes detention center because in a nation of immigrants, immigrant detention is a human rights violation and a crime.

Oponemos al centro de detenciones de Karnes porque en un país de inmigrantes, la detención de inmigrantes es una violación de derechos humanos y un crimen.

We oppose the Karnes detention center because we want an end to all immigrant detention.

Oponemos al centro de detenciones de Karnes porque queremos el alto de todas las detenciones.

We oppose this “civil” immigrant detention center because there is nothing civil about immigrant detention. Let’s call it what it is, a prison.

Oponemos a este centro dizque “civil” porque no hay nada “civil” de la detención de inmigrantes. Tenemos que decir lo que es, una vil cárcel.

We oppose the Karnes detention center because The Geo Group has a proven track record of killing people in its custody. People like Jesus Manuel Galindo who died in the Reeves Detention Center, run by Geo, after Geo put him in isolation instead of providing him with medical care.

Oponemos al centro de detenciones de Karnes porque The Geo Group tiene una historia probada de matar a personas bajo su control. Personas como Jesus Manuel Galindo quien muri&oacute en el centro de detenciones de Reeves, operado por Geo, después de que Geo le metió en una celda de aislamiento en vez de darle cuidado médico que necesitaba.

We oppose the Karnes detention center because private companies like Geo and CCA and their Wall Street investors like Wells Fargo make millions off of the imprisonment and isolation of our immigrant sisters and brothers.

Oponemos al centro de detenciones de Karnes porque compañias privadas como GEO y CCA y sus inversionistas de Wall Street como Wells Fargo ganan millones del encarcelamiento y aislamiento de nuestras hermanas y hermanos inmigrantes.

We oppose the Karnes detention center because it is in a remote rural area, isolating people from family, friends, lawyers and social services. Detention centers are built in remote regions for a reason, to hide the shameful and criminal immigrant gulag system from the broader public.

Oponemos al centro de detenciones de Karnes porque está en un lugar rural y remoto, lejos de familia, amigos, abogados y servicios sociales. Se construyen centros de detenciones en regiones remotas por una sola razón, para esconder el sistema vergonzoso y criminal del encarcelamiento de inmigrantes.

We oppose the Karnes detention center because we demand an end to all detentions and deportation now.

Oponemos al centro de detenciones de Karnes porque queremos el alto de todas las detenciones y deportaciones ahora.

Are we going to stop the Karnes facility?

¿Vamos a para el centro de Karnes?

Are we going shut down Hutto?

¿Vamos a cerrar a Hutto?

Are we going to end all immigrant detention?

¿Vamos a poner un fin total a las detenciones de inmigrantes?

168 Cases Pending at T. Don Hutto

During the first seven months of fiscal year 2011, there were 168 immigration cases pending at the T. Don Hutto Immigrant Detention Center for Women in Taylor, Texas with the majority of immigrants (111) from Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras. Cases at the facility were handled in an average of 30 days.

The numbers come from a database tool offered by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. The Immigration Court Backlog Tool shows that 16 of the cases involve women from China, ten more that were reported in fiscal year 2010.

“Among individual Immigration Courts, and considering only those with at least 1,000 pending cases, the court with the fastest buildup during FY 2011 was the Immigration Court in San Antonio, Texas, where pending cases jumped by 26 percent,” says a June 7 report by TRAC.

The San Antonio Immigration Court had 7,465 cases pending in the first seven months of FY 2011 (through the beginning of May). 3,462 (or 46 percent) of the cases were from Mexico. 2,458 ( or 32 percent) were from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

India (with 221 pending cases) and Cuba (with 174) ranked fifth and sixth for numbers of cases pending in the San Antonio Immigration Court. China (with 82 cases) ranked tenth.

The San Antonio Immigration Court resolved pending cases in an average of 239 days. Cases from Mexico took an average of 277 days to resolve.

“The number of cases awaiting resolution before the Immigration Courts reached a new all-time high of 275,316 by the beginning of May 2011,” says the TRAC report. “The average time these pending cases have been waiting in the Immigration Courts of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is now 482 days, compared with 467 days at the end of last year.”

A 2010 fact sheet at the website of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says that the T. Don Hutto facility has a capacity of 512 beds and an average length of stay of 31 days. The official descriptions do not mention that the facility is supposedly reserved for immigrant women. –gm

Missing the OLD (Cold) War

By MaryEllen Kersch

As one who grew up in fear of the total obliteration of the planet, I never thought I would say this, but I sort of miss the Cold War these days.

Not the diving under solid objects during “fall-out drills” in school, or being on the alert for strange-looking airplanes potentially carrying real weapons of mass-destruction, — those were not fond childhood memories. However, in retrospect, The Cold War united the people of our country in a sense of who we were and what we stood for.

The United States, during that era, certainly earned its position as the moral leader of the world. The big difference between us and the Commies was that we valued human dignity. We set the standards, worldwide, for the proper treatment of people under all circumstances; we spoke out against torture, oppression, starvation. We urged all nations to be, as we were, compassionate to those less fortunate than us and courageous against those who degraded our fellow humans. We practiced the golden rule. We did it because we knew it was right.

Here we are, six years after some lunatics, who still remain free, committed atrocious acts against us and we seem to have lost the moral compass that guided us so well. During the Cold War, we never would have put children in prisons. (We even agonized and apologized for our interment camps of WWII!) But that is precisely what we are doing now, under some convoluted grant of power in the name of, but having nothing to do with, Homeland Security.

For over a year now, the Commissioners Court in Williamson County, Texas, has acted as contractual “provider” in a corrupt contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (known chillingly, appropriately, as ICE) for the administration of T Don Hutto “residential” facility.

T Don Hutto was a founder of the firm that owns and operates this prison that is pretending to be a “residential” facility. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest — and hugely profitable — private operator of prisons in America, actually runs this shameful facility on a pass-through contract with the County. Under this arrangement, CCA gets 2.8 million tax dollars a month (approximately $84,000 a year for each tender little body they “detain”), and the County gets a dollar a day a body.

(Curious that the County is even involved; ICE could contract directly with CCA since CCA owns the prison in the first place. But, as some legal experts say, with the County in the loop, the County very likely shares any legal exposure. And the County collects $12-$15 thousand a month from the Feds for going along.)

The human beings held at T Don Hutto are not criminals; they are charged with no crimes, nor are they suspected of being a threat to us, or our homeland security. Many of the children are actually citizens of this country.

The Bush administration (and the Republican Williamson County Commissioner Court) justify this shameful partnership by citing their dedication to “family values.” Keeping the kids together with mom, you know.

Many experts say, and several governmental agencies (including Congressional groups) urge, that people awaiting disposition of their applications for amnesty and/or immigration ought to be equipped with an electronic device and allowed to go with responsible family members or church groups pending a decision by our authorities. It would be considerably cheaper—and far more humane. There are such programs in a number of other communities. But maybe they didn’t have a vacant prison owned by a corporation that donated lots of campaign dollars to lots of elected officials.

In the former era, during the Cold War, this is the sort of dishonorable thing the Commies would have done. But not the United States of America.