Friday, May 25, 2007

Detention at Hutto: Video, Stories, Action

I had read about this before, but to my shame, I didn't follow links or watch videos. I was distracted by other things. I don't know what they were. But I didn't follow up on this when I first heard, and I should have.

Other feminists weren't as tunnel-visioned. They, and various kinds of civil rights activists, were on it. And they did get linked.

But in case any of you all were satisfied, as I was, to absorb few scraps and statistics as you skimmed through your blog reading, and then gloss past the rest of the story -- here are a few pieces of the story that have moved, and enraged me.

The ACLU describes conditions at Hutto:

While Hutto authorities maintain that "residents" are treated humanely, they are, in many ways, treated like prisoners. At the time of the ACLU's initial court filings, child detainees had to wear prison garb. They received one hour of recreation per day and opportunities to spend this hour outdoors were very rare. Children were detained in small cells for about 11 or 12 hours each day, and were prohibited from keeping food and toys in these cells, which lack any privacy. Although some of these conditions have improved slightly, they are still far from adequate.

In addition, access to adequate medical, dental, and mental health treatment is severely limited and, as a result, many children suffer from chronic ailments that worsen as they are left undiagnosed and untreated. Children are not afforded meaningful educational opportunities. Guards frequently discipline the children by threatening to separate them from their families.

The ACLU has taken action through lawsuits:

The ACLU recently filed lawsuits against federal officials charging that conditions at the Hutto facility violate provisions of the 1997 court settlement Flores v. Meese which mandated that children in federal immigration custody should be:

  • released promptly to family members when possible

  • kept in the least restrictive setting possible

  • guaranteed basic educational, health and social benefits

The ACLU lawsuits seek release of the children together with their families from the Texas facility under appropriate and humane supervision. According to Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas, “The choice is not between enforcement of immigration laws and humane treatment of immigrant families. There are various alternatives under which both can exist.”


The children that the ACLU profiles are Lithuanian, Venezualan, Honduran, Nicaraguan, Romanian, and Guatamalan. They range in age from 3 to 17.

A child called Fredy has suffered representative problems with food, and health. He "has received inadequate medical care while in detention. On one occasion, he saw the nurse because of a cough and fever. The nurse barely looked at him and gave him cough syrup. Fredy is still suffering from this cough. Orbelina has asked for more syrup, but she was told that there is no more. For the last several weeks, Fredy has been light-headed and always looks like he is about to faint. Fredy has been taken to the nurse and told that nothing is wrong and that there is no medicine for his light-headedness. When Orbelina begged, she was told that they were saving the medicine for other children because it was not Fredy's "turn" for medicine."

He and his mother have even had their religious freedoms restricted. They "may not confess privately with a priest because a guard must always be present. Guards always force attendees to leave immediately after services end."

Three-year-old Marusia has been given inedible, adult food that causes her to throw up and have stomach pains. She "cannot understand her detention and is desperate to leave Hutto. Sometimes, she picks up a bag and says goodbye to her friends as though she were leaving, and cries hysterically when her parents tell her she cannot. At other times, Marusia repetitively sings "Ya me voy!" ("I'm leaving!"), or picks up telephones that she passes and asks, "Lawyer? Lawyer? Are we going?" although there is no one on the line. When taken outside for recreation, Marusia has attempted to climb the fence to escape from Hutto."

The children are afraid, anxious, angry, and depressed. Eleven-year-old Fredy has "has literally begun to bang his head and hands against the wall in frustration." Eight-year-old Yarely's "trauma has caused her to regress psychologically; she now communicates frequently in baby talk, talks about her fear of ghosts, and constantly wants to hold on to her mother for protection."

Two of the plaintiffs' personal statements are available online, in PDF form. At the bottom of this page, you can see drawings made by the children. You can listen to a podcast about what has happened, and is happening.

"I am scared of the guards," says Egle Baubonyte (in the plaintiff's statements). "I also remembered that the guard can have any criminal record as long as there are no deaths." She adds, "I am terrified of being separated from my mother... we need each other to stay sane," and, "They treat us like we are nothing."

"Sunny has only been outside a handful of times since we arrived at Hutto," says Saule Bunikyte, speaking of her nine-year-old daughter. Saule speaks of threats that guards have made to mothers, saying they will take away their children. She speaks of unreasonable restrictions placed on the children -- such as the children only being given one minute in the shower. "Sunny freaked out, she was crying," says Saule, "she felt bad because no kid can take a shower in 1 minute. She hates this place and she does not understand."


Some of the links I mention at the beginning of this post are months old. Some progress has been made in that time. At, the ACLU reports that it ten of the children it originally represented have been released. Seven more children are detained. And while the ACLU's acheivements are laudable, let's not overlook the pivotal sentence in their description of Hutto: "Although some of these conditions have improved slightly, they are still far from adequate."

In many ways, America's racist policies seem to be escalating. Bush is lobbying to increase troop numbers in Iraq to more than 200,000*, while congress has caved into continuing to fund the war, and Bush has grabbed for even more executive power in the case of national emergency. As America scrambles to kill brown people abroad, it -- or at least its racists and conservatives -- has also been galvanized around the terror of brown people out-breeding the population from within.

America is hysterically xenophobic. Brown people are other. Hunt them down in Iraq; purge them from the states. Define immigrant as meaning "brown" and "other," and white immigrants from Eastern Europe are included as a bonus. The terrorists are blowing us up, so lock them in inescapable cells. The immigrants are outbreeding us, so lock up their families and their children. Imprison the threat of fertility.


From the Unapologetic Mexican, contact information:

T. Don Hutto Residential Center
1001 Welch St.
P.O. Box 1063
Taylor, Texas

Phone: 512-218-2400
FAX: 512-218-2450


Straightforward links to blogs linked into the post:

Woman of Color Blog
The Unapologetic Mexican
Texas Civil Rights Review
Glenda in the Land of Oz
Truly Outrageous (hosting the 31st carnival of feminists)

This is an incomplete list of blogs that have spoken on the subject. If anyone has any other links they'd like to add, I would be happy to add them to this list as soon as I have an opportunity (my internet access will be spotty this weekend).

I'm also happy to update the possibilities for action if people have recommendations for concrete steps, other than contacting Hutto, the ACLU, or one's representatives.

*merci, Ginmar

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