The Sunday Sun
October 21, 2007
[Pages 1A, 5A]
By KELLY GOOCH
Critics of the T. Don Hutto detainee center in Taylor plan to take steps to get it closed down, and to them that means walking from Taylor to Williamson County, straight to the Commissioner’s Court chambers during a regular Tuesday meeting, October 30.
Jay J. Johnson-Castro with Del Rio-based Freedom Ambassadors, a human rights network, and coordinator of the walk against what they call a prison for children, said this week that he will be walking in protest of the facility beginning October 28.
After a noon news conference that day at T. Don Hutto, 1001 Welch St., Mr. Johnson said those who choose to walk with him will walk from the front entrance of the detainee center and go together about 19 miles to Commissioners Court, 301 S.E. Inner Loop in Georgetown, arriving in time for court at 9:30 a.m. on October 30.
Other people joining him for at least part of the walk will include representatives from the Dallas Peace Center; Cesar Chavez March for Justice in San Antonio; and chapters of the League of United Latin American Citizens – in Taylor, Austin and San Antonio, Mr. Johnson said. People may not be able to walk the, entire time because of work and school obligations during the week, and participants could be taken back to their car at any time during the walk, Mr. Johnson said.
“We’re going after the Williamson County Commissioners Court. And we believe we have a case,” said Mr. Johnson. Those who do walk will have help if they need it: Walkers will continually have water and a first-aid kit available via a support-vehicle, he said.
Even if weather gets bad, Mr. Johnson said a car could provide shelter. He said that on Sunday and Monday nights, participants could end up staying in someone’s house or in a hotel. “We’re not going to camp out along the highway or something,” Mr. Johnson said. “Everyone will want to get showered or rested.”
County Judge Dan Gattis said there is no permit from the county that is required for participants, to walk in protest. As far as any public assembly that might happen outside of the county building, he said they can be there as long as property isn’t destroyed or people kept from entering or leaving the building.
“As long as they respect other peoples’ rights and privileges, we certainly won’t be hassling them,” Judge Gattis said. “They certainly have the right to gather together and protest.” He said if any officer(s) from the Sheriff’s Department were to be at such a scene, it would be for the safety of those that were there.
People who have spoken to the court regarding T. Don Hutto have been “good honorable people with good intentions,” Judge Gattis said.
Dr. Asma Salam, member of the Dallas Peace Center board of directors and a D/FW area resident, said she plans on being in Taylor at noon October 28 and walking part of the time.
“I am looking forward to walking as much as I can,” she said, adding that she will be bringing five or six picket signs with her.
Ms. Salam said one such sign will say “stop the inhumane treatment of children and women in ICE/immigration detention centers inside our country.” She has been in contact with different faith and ethnic community groups in Dallas, telling them about the walk, she said.
“I still don’t know how many will join me,” Ms. Salam said. “But I’m hoping for good support.”
She said she has her own reasons for wanting to participate. “I believe that we have to raise this awareness,” Ms. Salam said. “We have to save the rights of women and children.”
Mr. Johnson said the walk has different facets to it.
“It brings we the people together to a point of activity,” he said regarding people opposed to keeping families in the T. Don Hutto Center in Taylor, where illegal immigrant families are kept while waiting to be deported.
He said the walk is also to make people aware of their opinions on T. Don Hutto.
“We consider media one of the powers of ‘our country,” Mr. Johnson added. They definitely want to voice their opinions in Commissioners Court, he said. “We’re going after the Williamson County Commissioners Court,” he said. And we believe we have a case.” Mr. Johnson said he believes the county’s involvement with the facility had to do with money rather than human rights.
“We hope they think beyond liability,” he said.
Once whoever is walking arrives at Commissioners Court on October 30, Mr. Johnson said he is not sure how many people could join the protest or what exactly will happen.
One thing he knew for sure: “We anticipate going to court and making public comment,” he said. “We want the facility shut down.”
This will be the third time there has been a walk in protest of T. Don Hutto, Mr. Johnson said. He said two previous walks involved walking from Austin to T. Don Hutto where they have never needed a permit.
Law enforcement officials in Taylor and Georgetown and the Williamson County Sheriff’s office would be notified, Mr. Johnson said.
“What we are not doing is orchestrating a march that is going to block highways and streets,” he said.
Captain David Clawson with the Taylor Police Department said the participants would not need a permit from the city of Taylor to walk in protest unless they were blocking streets. An officer could drive by just to make sure nothing got out of hand, he said.
“It’s always been extremely civil,” he said of past protests of T. Don Hutto. “We don’t want to do anything to step on their rights to that.”
According to a document on the city of Georgetown Web site, www georgetown.org, the walkers who arrive in Georgetown would consider the following regarding whether they need a permit: An “event” is a temporary event or gathering using private and/or public property. When determining whether a permit is required, consideration will be given to whether the following criteria exist: Closing a public street, Blocking or restricting public property, Blocking or restricting access to the private property of others, Use of pyrotechnics or special effects, Use of open flame, explosions or other potentially dangerous displays or actions, Sale of merchandise, food or beverages on public property, or on private property where otherwise prohibited by ordinance.
“There is a non-refundable fee of $100 for an Event Application and the Application must be returned completed, as per the ordinance, no later than 30 days prior to the proposed event or a $100 late fee will be charged in addition to the application fee,” according to the Web site.
On October 2, the Commissioners Court asked the county attorney’s office to draft notification to ICE and Corrections Corporation of America, who operates the detention facility, ending both contracts as of October 2, 2008.
However, on October 9, the court tabled the idea of ending both contracts.