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Texas facility jails immigrant children and their families
Detail: On March 6, 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a suit on behalf of ten child detainees, ranging in age from 3 to 16, against Michael Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security over conditions at the 512-bed T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas.

T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas, named after the co-founder of the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), was a medium-security adult prison. It was recommissioned as an immigrant detention center in May 2006 following Flores v. Meese (1997), which held that the U.S. government must provide family residential facilities for immigrant child detainees. The federal government pays CCA, the nation's largest private prison company, $95 per person per day to house the detainees who comprise of approximately 200 children (some as young as 3), and wear jail-type uniforms and live in cells in the Hutto facility.

None of the detainees has been charged with any crimes. The detainees are immigrants or children of immigrants who are in deportation proceedings. Many of them are in the process of applying for political asylum, refugees from violence-plagued and impoverished countries like Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Somalia and Palestine. The facility houses no Mexicans as there are different procedures for Mexican immigrants.

Many have spoken against the appalling conditions prevalent at the center that may cause physical and psychological harm to the detained kids. For example several kids as reported by Frances Valdez, a fellow at the University of Texas Law School's Immigration Law Clinic, fell sick due to bad food. Kids are allowed only one hour of playtime a day; they spend the rest of the time in their pods in a contained area. Often families are separated at night. And there is no prenatal care available for pregnant women. According to Rosa Rosales, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), when local staff from her organization collected toys for the children at Christmas, Hutto administrators would not allow stuffed animals to be given to the children.

The Homeland Security Department defended the center as a workable solution to the problem of illegal immigrants who on being released according to them disappear while awaiting hearings. According to Mark Raimondi, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the DHS division that oversees detention facilities, such facilities deter smuggling of children and provides “safe, secure and humane conditions and invest heavily in the welfare of the detained alien population."

But activists report that prisoners have been denied basic medical and dental care, education, exercise, and privacy. According to reports, guards deal with unruly children by adjusting the thermostat to make rooms intolerably cold and by threatening to separate them from their parents. Remarking on such findings, White House press secretary Tony Snow said that finding facilities for families is difficult, and "you have to do the best with what you've got."

For more details check out the following stories:
1. Tom Head, Tuesday March 6, 2007, “ACLU Sues Department of Homeland Security, Citing Conditions at Hutto Center” htttp://civilliberty.about.com/od/lawenforcementterrorism/a/hutto_suit.htm

2. Amy Goodman, Sunday March 4, 2007, “Prisons that profit on humans”

3. Kari Lydersen, Thursday 22 February 2007, “Families Behind Bars: Jailing Children of Immigrants”, http://www.alternet.org/rights/48308/

4. The Associated Press, Thursday 22 February 2007, “Groups Seek to Close Immigrant Center”
Source: http://civilliberty.about.com/od/lawenforcementterrorism/a/hutto_suit.htm, http://www.alternet.org/rights/48308/
Date: March 12 2007