by Greg Moses
About 100 people protesting the imprisonment of immigrant families at the T. Don Hutto Prison in Taylor, Texas on Sunday evening marched across a parking lot to the front door of the prison and then entered the prison lobby with toys and wrapping paper.
Jaime Martinez, National Treasurer of the League of United Latin American Citizens called for the march shortly after 5:30. Carrying a bullhorn, Martinez informed the protesters that prison officials had made a promise to come out and get the toys at 5 p.m.
When Martinez called for the people to take the toys to the children, the crowd pressed forward across a yellow line painted on the driveway marking official prison property.
“Bring the toys!” called Martinez from the prison door as volunteers grabbed boxes and bags of toys along with rolls of wrapping paper and rushed to the prison door.
One of the volunteers, Georgetown resident Peter Dana, later described carrying a box of toys through a metal detector. He said he thought about helping to engineer a metal detector years ago.
Inside the lobby, prison officials appeared to be accepting the toys for the children inside. Previous reports from various sources say that Hutto houses about 400 immigrants, half of them children.
The toy march was the high point of an active day that began with a longer march from downtown Taylor to the prison that lies upon a large, flat field at the outskirts of town, across the tracks.
Local LULAC Secretary Jose Orta began the day’s preparations by parking a rented trailer across the street from the prison. The trailer served as a stage for speakers during an afternoon rally.
At sundown, the final speaker of the day, Rev. Jim Rigby of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, asked the people to turn around and face the prison. By that time, most of the participants were holding lit candles as part of a sundown vigil.
Shortly after the crowd had turned around, Martinez began walking among the people with his bullhorn.
“Free the Children, Now!” chanted the crowd with Martinez.
“The children were out playing when we first marched here from town,” said Orta, recalling the day’s events. “They saw us, but they were taken inside.”
The Department of Homeland Security says the Hutto prison is dedicated to immigrant families with children.
Organizers and protesters agreed that eventually they want to close the prison and end the imprisonment of children altogether.
After the toy march, filmmakers Matthew Gossage and Lily Keber transformed the chilly night darkness into a screening of their new film, “Hutto: America’s Family Prison” which can be viewed at: americasfamilyprison.com/Hutto.mov. Keber was taping the day’s protest, including the toy march, so perhaps a sequel will be forthcoming.
Near the end of the screening, a few people made two more attempts to deliver more toys to the front door of the Hutto prison. The first attempt was rebuffed by a security guard, but the second attempt succeeded as a young man carrying a child took the bags past the guard to the front door. Inside the lobby, it appeared that people dressed in civilian clothes were processing the toys for delivery to the children inside.
Sunday’s protest marked the first anniversary of protests outside the Hutto prison. During more than a dozen protests since Dec. 16, 2006 security guards have jealously guarded the perimeter of the prison to discourage protesters from walking on prison grounds.