(Austin, Texas) - Texas groups reacted with alarm today to an announcement by the Department of Homeland Security that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would return to detaining families en masse. The groups called on the administration not to return to a system of mass family detention that was largely stopped with the end of family detention at the troubled T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas.
"Given our shameful record of detaining immigrant families from Japanese internment to the for-profit T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center, returning to mass family detention and deportation policies is a giant step backwards," said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Austin-based Grassroots Leadership. “The ultimate irony is that this announcement comes on World Refugee Day, when we should be celebrating immigrants and dedicating resources to helping resettle refugees fleeing persecution abroad, not opening new family detention centers.”
“It is shameful that the administration would choose World Refugee Day to announce the locking up of refugee families,” said Martha Sanchez of La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) in the Rio Grande Valley. “Those fleeing violence should be treated with dignity and respect.”
In 2009, the Obama administration ended the use of family detention at T. Don Hutto, a facility operated by for-profit prison company Corrections Corporation of America, and withdrew plans for three new family detention centers. The Hutto detention center, where ICE detained families from 2006 to 2009, became a national embarrassment as reports emerged that children as young as eight months old wore prison uniforms, lived in locked in prison cells, were 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.
"Detention of children and their parents is inappropriate as our experience representing families and challenging the horrendous conditions at the Hutto detention center starkly demonstrated,” said Barbara Hines, co-direct of the University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic. “Families fleeing violence in their home countries, many of whom are asylum seekers, should be released whenever possible and as a last resort, housed in home-like facilities, that are not run by iCE nor private for-profit prisons."
“We don’t believe putting families – children – in detention is the American way and, based on our Hutto experience, we don’t believe the world of nations will tolerate such an inhumane policy,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, based in Houston. “Instead of detention and expedited deportation proceedings, the better act on the part of our government would be to bring an army of immigration specialists to the border and start processing these refugees’ petitions so that people aren’t forced to wait nearly two years, the current average wait.”
Since 2009, ICE has only detained immigrant families at the Berks Family Detention Center in Leesport, PA. In 2012, ICE scrapped plans to open new family detention centers after more than 60 organizations wrote a letter to ICE saying, "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."