We don’t know how many children will celebrate July Fourth inside the T. Don Hutto “Residential” Facility’s fences, because Uncle Sam won’t say — although the official bed count, 512, gives us some guessing parameters. But we know that the families incarcerated at the Central Texas prison aren’t accused of any crime except, perhaps, being in the country illegally. They await hearings and probably deportation, but in the meantime, they’re cooped up like hamsters. Protesters from Texas and beyond focused enough attention on the plight of Hutto’s minor detainees to wring some facility improvements out of prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, but the government refused an inspection request from UN rapporteur Jorge Bustamante in 2007, and pictures on the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement website look about as homey as your average public high school.
ICE brags on the playground equipment, the free schooling, the chaplain, three square meals a day, and assures us that ‘prison uniforms’ are not worn” — all of which must be cold comfort to the “residents” who take advantage of the onsite law library, assuming Constitutional Law hasn’t been redacted from the collection.
A June 20 vigil, featuring the largest opposition coalition yet, called on President Obama to shutter T. Don Hutto, and protesters take some hope from a new Congressional report on the Department of Homeland Security’s 2010 budget wish list. It finds family detention “not generally appropriate,” directs ICE to prioritize alternatives for “families who do not need to be held in detention,” and, most encouragingly, asks the Office of Professional Responsibility to review the cases of families held in detention since 2007 to see if ICE followed its own rules for referring families to other options. Unfortunately that review isn’t due until 2011 — which means that many of Hutto’s kids will spend a significant portion of their formative years in custody if Obama doesn’t intervene.