Grassroots Leadership Blog

Families for families: The fight against detaining immigrant families begins today

This Saturday, Grassroots Leadership joined more than 50 other members and supporters of the Texans United for Families coalition for a vigil at the T. Don Hutto detention center, a private prison in Taylor, Texas.  The vigil marked the 5th anniversary of the long but successful campaign to end the shameful practice of detaining immigrant families — including small children — at the facility.  

The mood was solemn at the vigil as protesters were confronted with the renewal of mass family detention of refugee children and families from Central America.  The Obama Administration has announced the opening of a family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico and has begun detaining families at a GEO Group-operated facility in Karnes County, Texas. The administration has asked for funding for up to 6,300 family detention beds across the country.  

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#TBT: When a movement helped end family detention at T. Don Hutto

In the last month, the reaction to the rise in refugee children and families from Central America at the southern border has been decidedly mixed.  On one hand, faith groups and residents of border communities have rallied to provide relief for migrants often badly depleted after a long and dangerous journey.  On the other hand, vigilantes and their political allies have used the humanitarian crisis to call for an even more militarized border and draconian enforcement efforts.   Read more about #TBT: When a movement helped end family detention at T. Don Hutto

Humpday Hall of Shame: Corrections Corp. of America wants to lock up your puppy?

Private prison company Corrections Corporation of America has long been accused of caging incarcerated people like animals for a profit.  Now the private prison giant — founded on the simple principle that prisons could be sold "just like you were selling hamburgers" — is looking to branch into a new market — building an animal shelter for a Florida county.

With CCA's track record of staff misconduct, squalid conditions, and unsafe prisons for people incarcerated in its facilities, we aren't optimistic this is will turn out well for the animals of the Citrus County.  Here are the details from GTN News in Gainesville:

Citrus County and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) are considering a partnership to build a new animal shelter. The county says there is a definite need for the new facility.

Citrus County Spokesperson, Tobey Phillips, says, "Space issues-- we have-- we need new runs for the animals, we have kennels that are being doubled up, it's just this facility has been here for a while and we've made it work, but we need a new facility."

The CCA's proposal says the company will handle the logistics and building the facility, but the county has to foot the $2.8 million bill. 

Phillips says, "The county pays CCA a per diem rate per inmate. So CCA's proposal is to increase that per diem rate to cover financing."

 The proposal suggests upping that per diem rate by $5.25, meaning each inmate could now cost the county just over $74 per month. If the new facility is build it will be on county property right next door to the jail. The CCA and the county agree this could be a benefit because inmates could help with the upkeep. Read more about Humpday Hall of Shame: Corrections Corp. of America wants to lock up your puppy?

Building bridges in Dallas

At the end of May I was part of a small delegation that went to Dallas to attend the opening festivities of a newly formed group, the Center for Theological Activism.  At the dinner I met a number of progressive clergy who expressed real interest in learning more about the groups we represented.  Alejandro Caceres and Susana Pimiento were there from the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition and I was there to talk about immigrant detention and the Hutto Visitation Program.  Two of the clergy that seemed to be the most interested in the issue of detention were a Methodist Youth Minister, Jason Redick and the Rev. Jim Mitulski, the senior Pastor of the Cathedral of Hope.

Those of you who participated in the recent action in Waco at the Jack Harwell Center heard Jason Redick’s moving opening prayer.  About the same time as our action in Waco, I received an invitation from Rev. Mitulski’s congregation to be on a panel at the Cathedral of Hope.  They were holding a symposium titled ImagiNATION Immigration and the key speaker was the journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.   I spoke about my experiences visiting at the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas.  You can read my remarks here.

It was the first time I had been to the Cathedral of Hope, which is known as the largest LGBT congregation in Dallas, and probably in all of Texas.  The congregation was also racially diverse and included many families and children as well.  In fact, I believe the Cathedral of Hope may be the most integrated, inclusive religious congregation I have had the opportunity to visit.

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When it comes to detention, it's about the stories behind the statistics

The following are remarks made by Elaine J. Cohen, a consultant with Grassroots Leadership's Hutto Visitation Program, at ImagiNation: Immigration, an event held at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas featuring immigration reform activist Jose Antonio Vargas and his film DOCUMENTED.   

I have been visiting women at the Hutto Detention center in Taylor, Texas for almost three years — and it has changed my world view and understanding, not only of geo-politics, but of the human experience.  I want to tell you a little about what I’ve learned visiting women in immigrant detention and how you can visit, too. 

I’ve met many women in detention over the years. Out of respect for the dignity and safety of the women that I visit, I will not say their names, though I believe mentioning their country of origin is timely and may help you understand better what has driven so many to come to the U.S.

The first woman I would like to tell you about is from Honduras, the same country that so many families and children are fleeing from right now.   I met her a few weeks ago and two different members of our visitation program have interviewed her.  The story she told each of them was the same.  She told us of the repeated rapes she endured as a young girl — and again by the coyotes who were supposed to bring her safely across the border.  Something else happened, she was picked up by the border patrol and she now sits in immigrant detention at Hutto, which is very much like a prison, hoping to be granted asylum. 

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Humpday Hall of Shame: Disturbing reports emerge from Artesia, what can we expect from family detention at Karnes?

Reports have started to emerge from Artesia, New Mexico, suggesting that conditions are dangerous and unhealthy inside the family detention center that was created almost overnight at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). Others have expressed concerns that procedures within the detention center present a threat to due process that could result in women and children who have sought refuge at the U.S.-Mexico border being sent back into harm's way. 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has allowed some to tour the facility, including Tannia Esparza, executive director of Young Women United. Esparza told the Associated Press that the women she visited in Artesia reported that children were sick with coughs and diarrhea but were not given medication and that pregnant women are being targeted for quick deportation. 

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican who ran on a hardline anti-immigrant platform, admitted after visiting the facility that it was "no place for young mothers and babies." 
 
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Take action: Pressure mounts at Travis County Jail to stop "unconstitutional eavesdropping"

Earlier this month, we shared our petition to stop eavesdropping on prisoners at the Travis County Jail, where in-person visits have been replaced by a for-profit video conferencing service. 

Now, Jazmine Ulloa with the Austin-American Statesman has published the story, "Are there privacy flaws in inmate call systems?", sounding the alarm on phone calls between prisoners and their lawyers being unlawfully recorded at the Travis County Jail and Securus, the private company that's cashing in on it. Our friends at Texas Civil Rights Project and the Prison Justice League have filed suit. 

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Humpday Hall of Shame - Henry Cuellar wants kids deported ASAP, hauls in private prison cash

Today’s Humpday Hall of Shame award goes to a repeat dis-honoree: Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat from Laredo, Texas.  Yesterday, Cuellar teamed with Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) to introduce the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency Act.  The HUMANE Act, despite its name, guts legal protection for unaccompanied migrant children and speeds their deportation. 

Cuellar’s public push to detain and deport migrant children drew a rebuke (The Hill, July 11, 2014) last week from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.  CHC’s chairman Ruben Hinojosa, a fellow Texan told reporters at a press conference that:  "Henry Cuellar does not represent the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He's a Blue Dog; he comes to the meetings once in a long time."  

The CHC has called for maintaining legal protections for children from Central America and allowing kids to be able to fight their cases in courts rather than through an expedited deportation policy.    Experts have noted that Honduras — the country where the most unaccompanied children are migrating — has the highest murder rate in the world and that rapid deportation of children and families would result in some of those deportees being killed.   

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Humpday Hall of Shame: Forgetting the horrors of T. Don Hutto, Obama plots massive increase in immigrant family detention

President Barack Obama will be in Texas this week for a fundraising event in Austin.  He will also be meeting with Texas Governor Rick Perry to discuss the government’s response to an increase in the number of Central American children and families coming to the Texas-Mexico border to seek asylum.  

While many communities in Texas have responded by opening their arms to provide shelter to unaccompanied children, the Obama administration has requested an additional $3.7 billion in money that would mostly be spent on border enforcement, detention, and deportation.  This comes despite the fact that federal spending on immigration enforcement already surpasses all other federal law enforcement activities combined.  

Included in the supplemental spending request is $897 million to detain and deport refugee families.  Reports have emerged from D.C. that the administration may be considering more than 6,000 new family detention beds, up from only 80 beds currently detaining families.   The administration has already begun sending asylum-seeking refugee families to be housed at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artisia, New Mexico.   

Apparently, the administration has forgotten the shameful history of family detention in the United States that spans from the Japanese internment to the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas.  Families were detained at Hutto - a privately operated prison located just outside Austin - from 2006 to 2009.  During that time reports quickly emerged that children as young as eight months old wore prison uniforms, lived in locked prison cells with open-toilets, were subjected to highly restricted movement, and threatened with alarming disciplinary tactics, including threats of separation from their parents if they cried too much or played too loudly. Medical treatment was inadequate and children as young as one lost weight.  The facility was sued by the ACLU and University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic.

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