Tear Down Your Prison Camps for Children

A Phone Conversation with Jay

The vigil outside the T. Don Hutto prison camp for immigrant children was small but feisty Thursday evening, as activists from across Texas joined local citizens calling for an end to child imprisonment.

“Local people in Williamson County are taking an interest and digging in,” said vigil organizer Jay J. Johnson-Castro via cell phone Thursday night following the third vigil outside the Hutto jail since mid-December. He says about 35 people attended the vigil, inlcuding “more local people than last time.”

Next Wednesday, the county’s lease expires with Corrections Corporation of America, and county residents are asking commissioners not to renew it. They will ask again next Tuesday at the scheduled meeting of the Commissioners Court.

“Will the commissioners stand on the side of the children or on the side of Chertoff?” asked Johnson-Castro. Michael Chertoff is USA Secretary of Homeland Security, the agency that ultimately directs the imprisonment of immigrant children.

Michael Chertoff, DHS

Chertoff
“Some people left the vigil more outraged than they were before,” said Johnson-Castro. The local community, based on information they are gathering from friends and neighbors, have lately been asking how children are paired with cellmates. Are teenaged children paired with pre-schoolers? Boys with girls?

And some Hispanic residents of Williamson County are concerned that they are not represented among county commissioners who have toured the jail.

Williamson county newspaper reporters were on hand to cover the vigil, as were photographers from larger media markets. Univision anchor Diego Muñoz covered the event for the Austin affiliate. And Latino USA gathered lots of taped interviews for broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR) stations.

On the activist side, the American Civil Liberties Uni*n (ACLU) brought fresh signs. And attorney John Wheat Gibson, who represents two families of Palestinian heritage, drove from Dallas in his Corvette convertible, dressed for the day in an American-flag bowtie. Background music of drums and guitars was organized by artist A. J. Montrose.

At the vigil, people shared stories about other groups that are planning to join the growing movement.

“This is about respecting the rights of children,” said Johnson-Castro. He said it is time for the USA to join the rest of the world in ratifying the international Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Every right of the child that other countries have ratified is being violated at Hutto,” said Johnson-Castro. “This is international law that the US wouldn’t agree to. The international community has higher standards than the USA. And the reason is so the USA can do whatever it wants with impunity.”

As a result, one toddler child living in the Dallas area, Zahra Ibrahim, has been prevented from seeing her pregnant mother since the two were separated upon arrest in early November. More materials about the Ibrahim family have been archived here at the Texas Civil Rights Review.

“It’s time for Congress to show what they are made of,” says Johnson-Castro. “There is an element within the Republican party committing this atrocity and profiting from it. We’re insisting that it stop now.”

Johnson-Castro will return to the Hutto jail for a fourth vigil on Feb. 12 as part of the Marcha Migrante II border caravan that will travel from San Diego to Brownsville. Border mayors are supporting the caravan, says Johnson-Castro.

The border mayors don’t want a wall, and they are not happy about the Governor’s recent announcement to send 600 armed National Guard for border patrol duties. Johnson-Castro says the border mayors were also dismayed by President George W. Bush’s Tuesday night pledge to double the border guard.

“President Bush and Secretary Chertoff represent the heart of America as much as Governor Perry and Ted Nugent represent the heart of Texas,” said Johnson-Castro.

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