Kiddie prisons

Are kids with pending immigration cases being treated as prisoners?

Published May 3, 2007 10:52PM (EDT)

The law according to Bush has usually resulted in atrocities in faraway places like Guantánamo but lesser evils like phone-log spying here. But now some of the new policies vis-à-vis cracking down on immigrants are coming home. Tipster Bohica alerted us to new developments concerning the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Texas where hundreds of children are being detained with their families pending immigration cases. The facilities are a new invention since the government vowed to end "catch and release" policies in which immigrants rarely showed up for their hearings voluntarily. Complaints about the conditions in the detention center have spawned lawsuits by the Texas ACLU, numerous vigils and, beginning today, a three-week fact-finding mission by Jorge Bustamante, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

The complaints against the new detention centers (the government prefers the moniker "residential facility," although Hutto was originally designed as a prison) are varied -- but they amount to one disturbing idea: that we are treating children of all ages (many of whom are U.S. citizens) essentially as prisoners. Initial findings by the ACLU found that the children wore prison garb, received one hour of recreation a day and no formal education, and were kept in small cells 11 to 12 hours each day without food or toys. Other complaints involve psychological abuse, including guards telling children they would be separated from their families if they didn't stop crying. (For a great Q&A with ACLU's Lisa Graybill, click here.)

So far, 10 out of the 12 children named in the suits have been released, but the most disturbing part of the story is that these facilities may be a great new business model for the future. Hutto is owned by Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest provider of corrections management services, which today announced a 44.4 percent increase in earnings for the first quarter of 2007 in part as a result of federal revenues "favorably impacted by new contracts from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ('ICE') at our T. Don Hutto Residential Center, our Stewart Detention Center and our Eloy Detention Center." Who ever said illegal immigrants aren't good for business?

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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