The T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, is one of the hundreds of prisons for immigrants in the U.S. The facility now detains only women, most of whom are seeking asylum in the U.S., but it has a darker past as a place where immigrant families, including young children and babies, were once put behind bars. Shortly after winning the end of family detention at Hutto in 2009, Grassroots Leadership began coordinating visitors to Hutto who made sure that the women there knew they were not forgotten. Hutto visitors serve as human rights observers of the facility’s conditions, help break the isolation of detention for women in Hutto, and create new advocates for detention reform. Our program serves as a model for others and Grassroots Leadership is working with organizations across Texas to build new visitation programs.
Building Visitation Programs in Texas
Visiting Immigrant women in Detention in Taylor, Texas, came into my life at a particular time. The first year of my return to Austin, after more than 4 years teaching in Xalapa, Mexico was rough. Finally I turned 62 and began to receive a small income from social security– as well as land a studio apartment in a Foundations Communities property. Within weeks of moving into my own place and regaining some stability in my life, I attended an Orientation to Visitation. Geoff Valdes, who was an old friend from when we were part of Accion Zapatista, had suggested the Hutto Visitation Program to me when I told him that I wanted to get involved with something meaningful – where I could use my Spanish.
In November of 2011 I made my first visit to Hutto, with a woman who had been visiting a woman from Guatemala for a month or so already. After talking to me on a couple of visits, the Guatemalan woman told me that she knew a woman from Honduras who really needed a visit. That is when I met the first woman I would know from Honduras. Then there was another woman who wanted a visitor; she was from El Salvador. I have continued to visit, woman after woman, as ICE continues in its relentless seize and capture mission of Central American refugees. I have never been to Central America – though some astute students of Colonial and Imperialist history of the region might allow me to count three months in Chiapas as Central America.Read more about Call for Involvement of Faith Communities in Detention Visitation Programs
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.
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.Read more about Building bridges in Dallas
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.
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.Read more about When it comes to detention, it's about the stories behind the statistics
The 5th Circuit Court is not holding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) responsible for sexual assaults reported by eight women who were formerly detained at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas.
According to Courthouse News, the women filed a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, claiming that they were sexually assaulted while being transported by a male guard with no female guard present. According to the contract between the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and ICE, a female guard was to be present during transport of female detainees. The women claimed that 22 male guards had completed 77 such transports. Each plaintiff in the case had been granted asylum and was being transported out of detention at the time of assault. The man accused of these assaults, former CCA guard Donald Dunn, was sentenced to 10 months in prison in 2011.
A three-judge panel with the 5th Circuit Court dismissed the claims against ICE, insisting that the contractual violations did not necessarily indicate that the women were in danger. Judge Emilio Garza clearly was not concerned:Read more about Humpday Hall of Shame: Judge says ICE, CCA are off the hook for sexual assaults in immigrant detention
On Thursday, April 17 supporters of TUFF and the Hutto Visitation Program came together at El Sol y La Luna for our 4th annual Dancing Away Detention benefit show. We got to hear the music of Kiko Villamizar as we munched on delicious appetizers, and Queer Qumbia kept folks dancing until the end of the evening.
The event is organized to raise funds to sustain the work of the Hutto Visitation Program, and this year, we were also able to share a large portion of the money with a family whose resources have been severely strained by the detention of their father, Jose Jiménez Cortez. We received donations for our silent auction from local businesses and artists who gave us a variety of gift certificates, tickets and works of art.Read more about The Fourth Annual Dancing Away Detention Was a Hit!
"A Tale of Two Visits"
Elaine Cohen, our guest blogger, is a dedicated volunteer with Texans United for Families and the Hutto Visitation Program. Read more about From the Hutto Visitation Program: A Tale of Two Visits