Detention Center Lawsuits Begin

ACLU files 10 lawsuits on behalf of immigrant children who were detained at the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center in Taylor

Detention Center Lawsuits Begin
Photo By Jana Birchum

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed 10 lawsuits on behalf of 10 immigrant children from Lithuania, Canada, Haiti, Honduras, Somalia, and Guyana, who were detained at the T Don Hutto Family Detention Center in Taylor. The lawsuits allege that the facility inhumanely jails children and violates standards in place for a decade. Representing the plaintiffs are the national and state ACLU, the UT School of Law Immigration Clinic, and the international law firm, LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae. Named as defendants are Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and six U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

The private jail, operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, once housed overflow inmates for county and state corrections facilities, as well as undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Now, according to a contract specifying sponsorship by Williamson County, TDH houses "Other Than Mexi-cans," or OTMs, for ICE. Detainees number about 400, including 200 children, which has prompted the international outrage over the practice of incarcerating children. Children, even babies, wear prison garb and sleep in cells; they may not have toys in their cells, nor may they have nondetainee visitors. The lawsuits also chastise TDH personnel for threatening children with separation from their parents – to keep the youngsters in line. "This terrorizes parents and children," said Barbara Hines, an attorney with the UT Immigration Clinic. Generally speaking, TDH "violates its duty to meet the minimum standards and conditions for the housing and release of all minors in federal immigration custody set forth in a 1997 settlement agreement in the case of Flores v. Meese," said Laurie Beacham of the ACLU's national division. More bluntly, "Nothing at T Don Hutto complies with the settlement," Hines said.

The controversy has reached monumental proportions, with TDH lambasted in media outlets the world over. TDH proponents, in turn, have launched a veritable Operation Damage Control. Speaking in defense of the facility, Chertoff assured FOX news host Bill O'Reilly on Feb. 13 that the facility is not a "gulag," as accused. But if released, detainees "might never be seen again," Chertoff cautioned. "So, we have to be tough. But we're tough in a way that's humane." Congressman John Carter, R-Round Rock, took a tour of TDH on Feb. 23, subsequently pronouncing on his Web site that TDH is a "humane" facility. In a disconcertingly cryptic clause, he justifies incarcerating families as a deterrent to human smuggling. Before TDH, Carter explains, illegal immigrants were "freed" and ordered to appear before judges. "This policy was often exploited by alien smugglers. … By bringing children, smugglers likely avoided detention if captured."

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