Taylor, TX – Sunday April 19th at 4 pm, around 70 human rights defenders in cars circled the T. Don Hutto Residential Center operated by CoreCivic in Taylor, honking and displaying signs urging ICE and local officials to release people from cages before COVID-19 turns prisons into death camps. This comes after news of the first detained immigrants in Texas testing positive for the novel coronavirus last week.
Since then, over 120 cases across the country have been confirmed by ICE and more than 4,000 doctors have signed letters, including a letter to Williamson County Health Authority Lori Palazzo specifically about T. Don Hutto, calling for the release of detained immigrants.
Without decisive action, coronavirus will spread very quickly should the pandemic reach T. Don Hutto, and incarcerated people–including those held based on inability to pay bond and immigrants following asylum procedure–will face death sentences.
The event was coordinated by Never Again Action Central Texas, a Jewish-led group highlighting historical parallels between the persecution and genocide of Jews and the U.S. Government’s treatment of immigrants today. The event builds on the work of Grassroots Leadership, which has for years led the initiative for full divestment from and closing of the Hutto Detention Center. Other organizations co-sponsoring this action include Austin Jews for Justice, AZAAD Austin, Party of Socialism and Liberation, Workers World Party, RAICES, and Austin DSA’s Immigrant Right Committee.
To avoid catastrophe, the coalition demands that:
ICE immediately put a moratorium on all detention transfers and new contracts and immediately release all detained people to await their hearings in safer places
The Williamson County Health Department release their plan for how they will prevent deaths at T. Don Hutto, Williamson County Jail, and in surrounding communities when an outbreak occurs.
“My mother was undocumented for most of my childhood in this country, so every report of neglect and abuse from T. Don Hutto is deeply personal,” said Rafael Aguilar, Mexican-American organizer with Never Again Action Central Texas. “Our action coincides with the 77th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Today, I think of my rabbi’s words on Shabbat last year on the importance of standing up and speaking out in the face of human rights violations, especially when the offenders are powerful governments like ours. We know Anne Frank did not die in a gas chamber. She died of a treatable communicable disease, contracted in the crowded, dirty conditions of a concentration camp. ICE should immediately release everyone from this prison.”
“Williamson County health officials and local leaders have received a clear message from medical professionals: T. Don Hutto is a tinderbox for a coronavirus outbreak, which would be deadly for the women inside and the entire community,” said Bethany Carson, immigration researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership. “We need to see an outbreak plan from Williamson County public health officials before it’s too late.”
Sunday’s protest in Taylor took place in coordination with five simultaneous protests in Texas. Never Again Action chapters and dozens of civil rights organizations staged car protests at locations in Dallas, Corpus Christi, Houston, and San Antonio.
Never Again Action has coordinated car protests across the country in recent weeks, calling for officials to free all immigrant detainees. In Boston and New York, the group projected an image of Anne Frank onto jails and detention centers, emphasizing that she died of an infectious disease in an overcrowded detention center. Today’s government officials have the power to avoid mass deaths in prisons, and community groups will continue to demand that they use that power.