Sunday, February 11, 2007
"Mead said about 170 children are confined at the detention center, and about 75 families are involved in asylum proceedings. The immigrant population typically numbers about 400 people, and about 29 nationalities are represented. Most people who are not seeking asylum are deported, usually after about 40 days, Mead said."-Angela
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Official: Supervised release for families typically not considered
Media tour offers rare glimpse into life inside Taylor immigrant detention center
By Juan Castillo
Saturday, February 10, 2007
TAYLOR — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials typically don't consider supervised release for people apprehended on immigration violations if they believe the immigrants are likely to be removed from the country in 20 to 50 days, a top official with the agency said Friday.
"Our basic approach is detention," said Gary Mead, assistant director for detention and removal at Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "But we are using alternatives, and we've gotten increased funding to use them."
Mead led local, state and national journalists on a tour Friday of the T. Don Hutto Residential Center as federal officials sought to show that it is family friendly and not, as a growing number of critics have described, a prisonlike facility that harms the physical and mental well-being of families and children.
The 512-bed Taylor detention center, which opened in May, is one of two in the country that confines families on noncriminal immigration violations. It is at the heart of a controversy over a 2006 immigration policy allowing for detention of families, including children and infants, who are in immigration, asylum or deportation proceedings.
Critics say the practice is inhumane and have urged the agency, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, to consider alternatives. Congress called on immigration officials to strongly consider alternatives when it approved 2007 funding for homeland security.
Asked why officials don't consider alternatives, Mead said: "We don't know who's coming and going, and we don't know who will apply for asylum. Not all who apply get it."
Barbara Hines, who directs the University of Texas Law School's Immigration Clinic, called the argument untrue, saying that many detainees have passed a screening indicating that they have a credible fear of persecution or torture in their home country.
"That means they're not just leaving; it means they're going to pursue their asylum claim," Hines said.
Mead led reporters in a hurried and controlled 80-minute tour of the facility's living quarters, dining area, classroom, computer lab, medical unit and outdoor recreational area. Immigration agency officials prohibited reporters from interviewing detainees.
Mead said about 170 children are confined at the detention center, and about 75 families are involved in asylum proceedings. The immigrant population typically numbers about 400 people, and about 29 nationalities are represented. Most people who are not seeking asylum are deported, usually after about 40 days, Mead said.
In recent weeks, attorneys and advocates, citing accounts from current and former detainees, have offered complaints about the center's conditions, including inadequate health care and education, inedible food, weight loss among children and guards yelling at detainees.
In a news conference outside the detention center, Vanita Gupta, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said it is investigating allegations of human rights violations and reports of a recent hunger strike. Marc Moore, director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in San Antonio, denied that a hunger strike took place.
"We've done a number of things to soften the facility and make it family friendly," Mead said, later adding that barbed wire surrounding the center will be removed.
Mead said doors to detainees' cells are not locked, and family members are usually placed in adjoining cells, two to a cell. Guards don't carry guns or weapons, he said, and population counts are conducted four times a day for safety reasons.
Dr. Leroy Soto, the detention center's clinical director, said officials found no significant weight loss among children. He said medical staff typically see children for routine illnesses like colds. Inmates are "getting very good nutrition," Soto said.