Tuesday, August 28, 2007

New York Times brings national spotlight to ACLU lawsuit over internment camp conditions faced by migrants in Texas

Published: August 28, 2007

HOUSTON [08/27/07] — The federal government and lawyers for immigrant children have announced an agreement to improve living conditions at the nation’s main family detention center for illegal immigrant suspects.

The deal involves the 512-bed The T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Tex., which houses about 400 asylum seekers and others suspected of being in the country illegally, about half of whom are children and teenagers.

When it opened last year, the privately run center was to be a model for a tougher federal immigration policy in which more people suspected of being illegal immigrants would be held instead of released before hearings. But the center drew protests when it was reported that immigrant children were inadequately fed, deprived of toys and confined to cells with open toilets.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the immigration clinic at the University of Texas Law School sued federal officials on behalf of 26 immigrant children and teenagers, seeking their release and improved conditions at the center. The agreement, announced as a trial had been set to begin on Monday, requires improving education, recreation and nutrition for children, hiring a full-time pediatrician, and installing privacy curtains around toilets. It provides for inspections by a federal magistrate, Andrew W. Austin.

The New York Tims article reports that all of the children on whose behalf the ACLU sued have now been released. Click here for the ACLU's report.

The T. Don Hutto Residential Center, run by Corrections Corporation of America, was formerly a high security prison unit. The "detainees" who are currently warehoused there are non-Mexican foreign nationals seeking asylum or immigrant status. Critics insist, not without historical precedent, that the facility is nothing more than a prison internment camp that many in the field of human rights view as degrading and draconian. A civilization as technologically creative as our own could surely solve what conservatives such as Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobbs are sensationalizing as "an invasion," with a solution that recognizes the dignity of each person.

The migrants being held at Hutto and other facilities around the country -- such as the ones we have reported on in Del Rio, Texas, and Tacoma, Washington -- have committed no crimes other than attempting to immigrate or find asylum without completing the formal legal process required by law. The number of these privately operated prison camps, detention centers for the otherwise innocent population of migrants living and working within the United States and contributing to the economy, is growing by leaps and bounds under the current conservative political exploitation of racism vis-a-vis a new incarnation of the Republican "Southern Strategy" set to reemerge full-throttle in the 2008 election cycle, and inflamed via a corporatist jamboree of profiteering and lobbying.

At any rate, the application process would more than likely turn them away, given the system of quotas written into immigration law, a quota system that limits some nationalities and encourages others. Under such preferential quotas, our current immigration laws would be hard pressed to prove itself free of racial and ethnic bias.

There are now scores of such "holding facilities" [READ: "Prison Camps"] throughout the United States that warehouse Mexican nationals. More are under construction with private prison companies scrambling to outbid each other for their contracts. Under such free market conditions of corporatist laissez-faire as promoted by the current Straussian Neocon Administration, the prison population of both migrants and convicted felons is booming, now at 600% over that of the 80s, when it began during the Law&Order Reagan years. American is now a prison state.

Illustrating the dangers of the current run on unrestrained profiteering, recently in Seattle, The GEO Group came under public scrutiny when 300 migrants and security staff became ill after eating tainted food. Proper funding and staffing of the needed food services by the private prison operator is suspected by critics of privatization to be the chief mitigating factor in the incident. Last week, at the Val Verde County Jail in Del Rio, Texas, another such holding facility for migrants, the same private prison corporation had to call in the Centers for Disease Control and State Health Department investigators to help them determine the cause of two deaths and two more "mystery illnesses." This week, they announced, incredulously, that none of the sudden illnesses were related [cf. story below on these pages].

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