Friday, March 02, 2007

Home Sweet Home 

Two views of the T.Don Hutto Centre where a 9-year-old Canadian boy is incarcerated with his Iranian family.
Edie's Daily Kos story gives us the background.
While I keep reading about how this isn't a jail, the Corrections Corporation of America's website for the facility describes the Centre's manager as a "warden". And here's a story from the San Antonio Current about the facility which also gives us more information about how the US immigration system is operating:
Last year Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced that the U.S. would end its “catch and release” policy regarding aliens from countries other than Mexico. DHS increased detention funding. According to DHS data, they’re detaining 99 percent of the other-than-Mexico undocumented immigrants they catch, up from 34 percent.
What Chertoff didn’t say is they’d be replacing “catch and release” with a new “catch, charge, and release” policy.
Once a detainee family is placed in the Hutto facility they can apply for asylum. This involves pleading their case to an asylum officer at the Houston office of the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. If the officer decides that a case is credible, detainees can get a hearing with a federal judge in San Antonio. This judge can grant freedom, for a price.
I met immigration lawyer Griselda Ponce in the prison’s lobby. She has served about 100 clients at the Hutto facility, and only about six have been deported or denied asylum. Nearly all her clients at Hutto are asylum seekers, and 80 percent have been released on bond. The average bond, she says, is $7,000, with $1,500 extra per child. Bonds can get as high as $50,000. The judges rarely use the other options, which include electronic monitoring and intensive supervision, Ponce says.
“The problem with ‘catch and release’ was not so much that people were fleeing and never coming back, but they had a very poor process of explaining to these families what they had to do after they were released,” Ponce said. “A lot of families would come into my office, and the client would say, ‘I have this permiso, but I’m wondering if it expired. I want to know how I renew it.’ That was their notice to appear in court. Nobody explained it to them.”
So maybe Canadians concerned about this boy should just start raising money to buy his way out -- sounds like it would be about $16,500 for the boy and his parents.
Mother Jones describes one family's experience:
Inmate Faten Ibrahim was unlikely to escape. She lived at a compound built as a prison for Texas' worst criminals, within a perimeter of razor wire. Her eight-by-eight-foot cell offered only a thin sliver of window, her toilet in an open corner left no cover for stashing break-out tools, and, at any rate, cracking the cell's thick steel door at night would have tripped an alarm. She certainly wasn't going to try bolting, especially since Faten, who lived in the cell with her mother for three months, is five years old.
. . . a typical prison routine still exists there: all children who are big enough must wear scrubs akin to prison uniforms, and there's little to occupy their time besides lounging in the "pod," the communal space walled off by prison cells. When not hanging out there, children receive a single hour of physical recreation each day and, at the time Brané visited, a single hour of schooling in the form of an all-ages English class (The classes were upped to four hours recently, and are expanding to the seven hours required in Texas public schools). Brané was not impressed by efforts to brighten the pod with carpet and a mural depicting an ocean scene: "It's definitely a penal environment."
Faten, the five-year-old detainee, suffered from nightmares and often sobbed uncontrollably at T. Don Hutto, according to a lawsuit seeking her family's release that was filed late last month by a private attorney. In one instance she was "yelled at and threatened with 'punishment' for her failure to 'stand still'" during the prison's daily population count, the suit said. Her mother, Hanan, who is now five months pregnant, complained of being too tired to join daily showers at 5:30 a.m., but was told that if she didn't she could be put in solitary confinement, according to the suit. To see a gynecologist, according to the lawsuit, Hanan had to travel two hours away, bound in leg irons the entire time, for each prenatal appointment. Her absence from the pod so upset Faten and her siblings, aged eight and 14, that their mother stopped seeking medical treatment rather than leave them alone. The suit also claimed that the family, who are Palestinian, was denied halal food at the prison cafeteria, prenatal vitamins for Hanan, and psychological counseling. "They were treated as inmates," said attorney Joshua Bardavid, "rather than a family being held for immigration reasons."
. . . The Ibrahims are far from the only residents to complain of ill-treatment at T. Don Hutto, where operations are run by the controversial prison staffing company Corrections Corporation of America. Lawyers with the University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic, which has represented some 25 of the inmates, say several have reported weight loss and frequent vomiting, and parents have been unable to tend to sick children at night because rules ban them from leaving their cells after curfew. Other women have also complained of a lack of prenatal and mental health care. "I'm not a psychologist, but I go talk to these people, and they are just in shambles," said law fellow Frances Valdez. "I mean, they are losing their humanity." UT law professor and clinic director Barbara Hines believes imprisoning children is on its face unethical. "I've been doing this for thirty years," she said, "and I haven't been this upset about something in a very long time. It's just heartbreaking to go in there." . . . Human rights investigators said access to the gym and playground is limited to a total of one hour a day, during the allotted recreation time. Many of the children kill most of their time fighting over a Sony Playstation in the pod, Brané said. She said the center was most lacking in developmental toys for younger children, especially soft toys such as stuffed animals that would be important to children experiencing trauma.
. . . when Brané recently interviewed detainees there, nearly every person she spoke with cried. She will release a report of her findings later this month and doesn't believe that T. Don Hutto can ever be made into a place that would be suitable for minors. Before she left the facility that day, a child ran up and pressed a folded piece of paper into her hand. "Help us," the note said, "ask questions."

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