Archive: Statesman's Castillo Makes Up for Lost Coverage

He was among the first reporters to be notified of the plight of immigrant families at T. Don Hutto prision camp in Taylor, Texas. At last, his editors appear to have given him permission to give the story the coverage it deserves, perhaps because a federal judge last week expressed exasperation in open court. Below are the first few paragraphs of a comprehensive overview posted Sunday morning at statesman.com (subscription).–gm

Familial bonds

Is government’s policy to detain immigrant families fair?

By Juan Castillo
AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Sunday, March 25, 2007

TAYLOR — Conversations with her mother and the son she left behind in Somalia because she feared for her life there. Visits to her grandmother’s tranquil vegetable garden. Walks past her grandparents’ house on her way home; they were always waiting to greet her.

These recurring images filled Bahjo Hosen’s dreams as she slept — with her 2-year-old son, Mustafa, curled up next to her — on a narrow metal bunk bed in a roughly 8-foot-by-12-foot cell with an open toilet and sink in the T. Don Hutto Residential Center.

On most mornings about 5:30, a guard’s rap on the door jarred Bahjo awake, drawing a dark curtain on her dreams and beginning another day of confinement while she and Mustafa pursued asylum in the U.S. immigration system’s slow-grinding bureaucracy.

“I never dreamed I would be in jail,” said Hosen, who fled a Somalian clan’s death threats, only to be locked up in the immigrant detention center in Taylor.

The former state prison is in the bull’s-eye of a growing controversy over a federal policy that requires families like Bahjo and Mustafa to be confined on immigration violations while they await outcomes of their asylum petitions or deportation. The waits can drag on for days, months, sometimes years.

The controversy raises two questions: Is it inhumane to confine children and families for running afoul of immigration laws? And are there better alternatives than locking people up?

Critics answer yes to both. Lawsuits filed on behalf of 10 children confined in Taylor accuse federal officials of illegally and inhumanely housing children, failing to meet the standards of a 1997 court settlement for the care of minors in immigration custody, and ignoring Congress’ orders to exhaust other options before detaining families — in homelike environments.

At a hearing on the lawsuits last week, even U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks expressed exasperation at the restrictions under which families are living at the Hutto facility.

“This is detention. This isn’t the penitentiary,” Sparks said. Detainees “have less rights than the people I send to the penitentiary.”

Sparks ordered that some restrictions on attorney visits with detainee clients be removed immediately. . . .

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