Demanding Dignity, Not Detention at Hutto Detention Center Vigil

Taylor, TX – On Saturday, August 7, 2010 at 7 p.m., friends and advocates of the women detained at the T. Don Hutto Center will hold a vigil at 1001 Welch in Taylor. The vigil is part of a statewide opposition to the growth of detention centers in Texas. The vigil, organized by Texans United for Families, Grassroots Leadership, and other community members, marks the one-year anniversary of ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton’s announced plans for a major overhaul of the agency’s immigration detention system. Nevertheless, little has changed to date.

Last August, in response to sharp criticism from advocacy groups, community organizations, and government officials, Morton promised sweeping changes aimed at improving detention conditions for the nearly 400,000 immigrants held in the custody of ICE each year. According to Morton, the agency intended to take substantial steps to transform the sprawling network of approximately 350 jails and prisons into a non-penal “civil detention system.”

As part of its reform effort, ICE discontinued the detention of families and children at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas. The Hutto facility received national attention in 2007 when it became the target of protests and lawsuits brought on behalf of 26 immigrant children detained with their parents at the facility as a result of the substandard conditions.

Today, ICE uses the Hutto facility, which is privately owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), to detain women. Hutto came under scrutiny again this year when ICE announced its investigation of a pattern of sexual assaults by a CCA guard.

“A year ago, we were heartened that the Obama administration ended family detention at Hutto and took on reforming the broader immigration detention system,” said Rocío Villalobos, a member of Texans United for Families. “Today, the majority of women at Hutto are seeking refuge from violence in their home countries. This spring’s sexual assault incidents show how detention subjects people to more violence which deepens their trauma, rather than protects them from it.”

Sexual abuse has been an ongoing problem in detention facilities in Texas. In 2007, CCA fired a guard for initiating sexual contact with a mother detained with her family at Hutto. In 2008, the WOAI news station in San Antonio reported sexual abuse of women detained at the GEO Group’s South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall. Earlier this year, a former Port Isabel Detention Center officer was sentenced to prison for abusing detained women at the south Texas detention center. Reports of sexual abuse against females in detention have also plagued MTC’s (Management & Training Corporation) Willacy County Detention Center in Raymondville, TX.

The sexual assault incidents also seriously call into question ICE’s heralding of Hutto as a model detention facility. “Building more detention centers won’t solve this problem,” said Lauren Martin of Grassroots Leadership. “ICE must transform its system towards one that prioritizes release over detention. That is the only way to ensure these tragedies do not continue.”

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