Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rally at Hutto: Immigration is not a crime, so why are children doing time?

This past Saturday I attended a rally at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas (near Austin, Texas).

About 2oo people were present to protest against this facility, which--hidden behind multiple fences and barbed wire, rendering the building itself nearly invisible--imprisons hundreds of immigrant children (from infancy through teenage years) and immigrant mothers with small children.

One of my favorite chants was, "Immigration is not a crime! Why are children doing time?"

Hutto is not a prison for people who have committed serious crimes--or even crimes at all--although it certainly looks like any other medium-security prison. (Well, there is one difference between Hutto and other prisons: this one has a small playground. But no children have ever been spotted playing on it.)

This prison is for those who crossed the border without proper papers, or over-stayed a visa, or missed an immigration appointment, or--very often--are seeking asylum from persecution or widespread domestic violence in their home countries. Since the only way to get asylum in the United States is to arrive at the border and essentially turn oneself in, asylum seekers are immediately placed into the rather punitive U.S. immigration law system and are often detained in detention centers. Many of those in Hutto were fleeing gangs, death squads or rapists in their home countries.

About a year ago, the United Nations sent an investigator--a "UN rapporteur"--to check up on claims of human rights violations at the facility. The rapporteur was turned away. (Cf. http://www.counterpunch.org/moses05072007.html).

There is a fairly good documentary about Hutto, which came out recently, entitled The Least of These. (http://theleastofthese-film.com/) It's well worth watching. I'm pretty sure it can be seen online for free somewhere, probably youtube. U.K.'s own Geography Department sponsored a screening of it during finals week this past spring, which was excellently attended, even despite the difficult timing and quick organizing. Very impressive.

There's one small problem with the Least of These documentary. The conclusion of the film is a little confusing, making it appear that the conditions in immigration detention facilities have been dramatically improved and that now the only issue is whether immigrants (including children) should be detained at all. Although some immigration lawyers managed to reach a settlement with Hutto and obtain certain improvements, the conditions in Hutto and at other immigration detention centers in the U.S. are still generally appalling. Despite this problem, the documentary is really an excellent exposee of Hutto and a good introduction to the issue of immigration detention.
Another good film on immigration detention--it's not a documentary, but it's fairly accurate--is The Visitor, which the SSU screened last fall as part of the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice (CKCPJ)'s "20 Days for Peace and Justice."

1 comment:

  1. I would like to say that It is really nice and informative post. So all those who are going Apply for the Immigration they must read this post.