Family Detention Centers Halted in Texas

February 7, 2012

Groups Call for End to Immigrant Family Detention

AUSTIN –  Texas advocacy groups applauded a decision by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to rescind a Request for Proposal for 100 new immigrant family detention beds in Texas.  

"This is a victory for advocacy organizations who did not want to see family detention return to Texas," said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership.  "However, the administration should discontinue the practice of detaining families altogether and prioritize non-restrictive alternatives to detention of families."

Last week, the Reading Eagle announced that ICE had signed 10-year contract with Berks County, Pennsylvania, to continue to detain families at a repurposed  Berks County-owned facility.   

“In the last 10 years, our government has created a large-scale immigration lock up system that pulls in thousands of the country’s most vulnerable, including asylum seekers and families with children, at enormous cost to the U.S. taxpayer,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas.  “ICE should end the practice of putting innocent children in jail. It is inhumane and un-American, and it is time for the government to stop.”

Last month, a broad coalition of more than 65 national, state, and local immigrant, civil rights, and faith organizations called on ICE to end the practice of detaining immigrant families, including small children and infants. In an open letter to ICE Director John Morton, the groups urged ICE to prioritize release and alternatives to detention for immigrant families awaiting asylum or immigration hearings. 

"We call on the administration to prioritize release of immigrant families in all cases," the signatories wrote to ICE.  “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.  Social workers with proven track records providing family and child welfare services offer the only appropriate expertise for supporting families in civil immigration proceedings."

A 2007 report by the Women’s Refugee Commission and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service concluded that both T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas and the Berks facility were “modeled on the criminal justice system, with little regard to national and international standards for the care and protection of children and families.”

The Hutto detention center, where ICE housed families from 2006 to 2009, became a national embarrassment as reports emerged that children as young as eight months old wore  prison garb, 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.

Full letter sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the list of signatories.