Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Putting Children Behind Bars in Taylor [Texas]

I'm glad to see the Statesman take a stand on this. It's going to be a horribly sad Xmas for these children and families. 200 children are being held with their parents in the Hutto detention center. Check out this piece, BTW, to see who is profiting from this: Halliburton to build "immigration detention centers in US" at the following Link. It cites a NYTimes piece that came out the first week in February but I've not tracked it down. Before our very eyes, our country is repeating a very ignominious history of familial incarceration. We all need to express moral outrage and write our Congressmen and Congresswomen. I know there are exceptions, but I imagine that even those that call for tougher enforcement don't envision government action that is this drastic and harmful. If you don't know who represents you, go to this link. I just placed calls myself. -Angela


Putting children behind bars in Taylor

Tuesday, December 19, 2006
There has to be a better way. It cannot be right to imprison children guilty of nothing more than following their parents into the United States illegally.

The American-Statesman's Juan Castillo recently reported on a private prison in Williamson County where families of illegal immigrants are held to await disposition of their cases. It is one of two Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities in the United States holding non-Mexican unauthorized immigrants on noncriminal charges.

The facilities also are living testimony to a broken system for adjudicating immigration cases. There are 215 federal immigration judges serving in 53 immigration courts across the country. Last year, they handled more than 350,000 specific matters, including 270,000 individual cases.

The backlog is so strained that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, noted: "The department and the federal courts are straining under the weight of an immigration litigation system that is broken. Under the current system, criminal aliens generally receive more opportunities for judicial review of their removal orders than noncriminal aliens."

In short, illegal immigrants who commit crimes get speedier legal attention than these children, who have done nothing wrong other than follow their parents.

Nothing will change until reforms are initiated, and Congress has done little to fix a broken immigration policy and the machinery to enforce it. The result is the private prison facility in Taylor and a smaller one in Pennsylvania.

According to those familiar with the families in the private prison, children of those apprehended are dressed in prison jumpsuits and receive only one hour of schooling and one hour of recreation a day. The trade-off is that they get to remain with their families.

Hard information on the program and the private prison is difficult to come by. The company running the prison refers questions to the immigration office, and the immigration office has had little to say about the situation.

News of the 400 people — 200 of them children — being held in the T. Don Hutto unit in Taylor has sparked protests from several groups interested in immigrant issues. They are concerned about everything from care and feeding of those being held to the psychological effect of incarceration on children and families.

Federal authorities began detaining all unauthorized immigrants last summer. The reason for the detention was that so many who were charged with unauthorized entry into the United States never appeared for their court dates. They melted back into the population.

It is understandable in this age of terrorism that authorities want to keep tabs on illegal immigrants and ensure their appearances in courts. But there should be a way to see that they have their day in court without imprisoning their children.

Keeping families intact would appear to be a humane policy, as well. But the result of the new detention policy has been to jail children, and that is not acceptable. Those who have visited the detainees, some of whom are seeking political asylum, say the detention is damaging.

Little kids in prison jumpsuits and nametags presents a sad picture. Children are truly at the mercy of their parents, and incarceration cannot be good for their physical, mental or emotional health.

For reasons of security and the law, a close watch on the nation's borders is warranted. But what isn't acceptable is jailing mothers and children awaiting a hearing on their status.

There has to be a better way.

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