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."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Relevant Updates: Education, Immigration, This Blog and You

*A recent issue of The Nation has a nice piece on the movement for free/affordable higher education, http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090629/featherstone. (One correction, however, is called for...the article states that students in the U.S. are fighting for lower tuition and students in Europe for free tuition, which is somewhat inaccurate, as our own group alone proves; there is a growing movement in the U.S. for free tuition, of which we are a part.)

*If you would like to write for this blog, especially if you are a U.K. student or a member of the Lexington activist community, please contact me for more information: standinsolidarity@yahoo.com.

*I attended an excellent community forum last week, sponsored by a local college Amnesty International chapter, on the Valley's immigration detention centers. A few quick facts:

  • The Valley has only four board certified immigration lawyers, serving thousands of immigrant detainees. This, along with the cruelty of the judges here, is one of the reasons that so many immigrants from around the country are sent to the Valley's detention centers. A large number are from states far away from Texas.
  • Approximately 100 immigrants are flown into the Valley *daily* on special airplanes full of immigrant detainees. Some of these people are quickly deported, while others languish in the detention centers.
  • The Raymondville "tent city" detention facility, according to immigration lawyer (one of the four) Jodi Goodwin, has been serving rotten food, and some of the detainees have a toe fungus. Many medical conditions are going untreated.
  • The Hutto detention facility near Austin, Texas continues to imprison many immigrant children. A protest at Hutto and a solidarity protest in the Valley are scheduled for this coming Saturday.
  • Amnesty International is investigating the recent transfer of Rama Carty from the Valley's Port Isabel detention center to a facility in Louisiana. Although the guards claim that the transfer had been planned weeks before, Rama Carty was a leader in the hunger strikes and in contacting the media and advocacy organizations, so his transfer was likely an attempt to cut off the detainees' links to activist groups. Although ICE (or some related agency?) is attempting to deport him to Haiti, Rama has never been to Haiti and was never a Haitian citizen. According to one speaker at the forum, the Haitian ambassador has stated that Haiti refuses to grant the right to deport Rama to Haiti.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hurricanes, the Border Patrol, and the ongoing war on immigrants...

This morning I attended a press conference in front of the McAllen, Texas Border Patrol office.

The event, timed to mark the beginning of the Rio Grande Valley’s infamous “hurricane season,” was organized to demand that the Border Patrol make public their policy about hurricane evacuations: Specifically, in the event of a hurricane evacuation, will the Border Patrol be checking evacuees’ IDs, trying to figure out who is in the country legally and who is not?

If the Border Patrol does not tell the public whether it will check IDs, then many undocumented immigrants and their family members can be expected to remain in the Valley in the event of a hurricane, risking being killed by the flooding to avoid deportation or imprisonment.

Chanting “What do we want? Answers!”, those organizing the press conference demanded to know which the Border Patrol values more: capturing undocumented immigrants or protecting human life? Unfortunately, the answer is pretty clearly the former. For over a year, the Border Patrol has refused activists and lawyers' requests that it make its hurricane evacuation policy public.

In an area of the country where there have been many terrifying ICE "raids" on immigrant neighborhoods and where the border is highly militarized, a veritable police state, a hurricane would be the kind of disaster the Border Patrol and ICE would exploit to round up even more immigrants and create even more fear. (If you're interested in the connection between disasters and police states, Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is a fun read.)

The press conference was sponsored by a wide variety of groups in the Rio Grande Valley, including LUPE (La Union del Pueblo Entero/Union of the Entire People, the community activist arm of the United Farm Workers Union), a pro bono immigration lawyers' group (Texas RioGrande Legal Aid), and Valley-based organization CASA (Coalition of Amigos in Solidarity and Action). Other groups nationally have joined in signing a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, demanding that the Border Patrol release its hurricane evacuation policy to the public.

* * *

This is not the first time that the Valley's vulnerability to hurricanes has been a major topic of concern among social justice activists here. A number of hurricane-related controversies have arisen over the last couple of years.

Last summer, in the rush to complete the construction of the U.S./Mexico border wall in the Valley before the new Presidential administration could take office, levies along the border were demolished--at the height of hurricane season, no less--to allow the wall to be more swiftly built. During that time, the Valley was left especially vulnerable to a potential hurricane disaster of catastrophic proportions.

The construction of the border wall has also raised concerns that in the event of a hurricane, the water surging up from the southern part of the Gulf Coast, from Mexico, would be pushed back into Mexico, causing major flooding and deaths in Mexican border towns. (Along much of the border, the wall is not just a “fence,” but is composed of high concrete or metal panels, appearing much like the wall in Palestine.) A recent flood in Mexico has already caused controversy, as the wall seems to have exacerbated the damage.