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Federal Judge Gives Fair Warning to ICE: Hutto Families Have a Case

A federal judge gave the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency a heads-up this week, ruling that families confined in the T. Don Hutto facility will probably prevail in court on charges that the prison is substandard. One big problem with the current situation: children whose parents are seeking asylum in the United States should not be held in a modified medium-security prison.

It boggles the mind that the government is defending itself for locking up children in this prison. The Flores case, settled in 1997, set clear standards for the treatment of minors in immigration custody. Children awaiting immigration hearings should live with family members, or in a foster home setting if necessary. They should be held in "non-secure" settings (translation: not a place encircled with barbed wire). They should have access to schooling, medical care, and proper nutrition.

T. Don Hutto, operated by Corrections Corporation of America for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has never even come close to the spirit of the law, much less the letter of the law. It originally offered one hour of education a day, and twenty-minute mealtimes for the children, with no other nutrition available. Children wear prison garb, and are held at times in cells where toys are not allowed. Some children have been threatened that they'll be separated from their parents as punishment.

The immigration agency was hoping to promote this new "family-style" prison for an untold number of people, although Hutto at this point holds about 400 people, half of them children. Ten families are involved in the lawsuit over the substandard conditions, represented by the ACLU.

The judge, like any reasonable person would, puzzled over the actions of the federal immigration agency in this case:

"The Court finds it inexplicable that Defendants have spent untold amounts of time, effort, and taxpayer dollars to establish the Hutto family detention program, knowing all the while that Flores is still in effect."

Yes, it would actually be easier to just comply with the law than for ICE go to the trouble to fight this lawsuit for a prison that was illegal to begin with. Plus, let's face it: it would be way less morally reprehensible.

The judge has set a trial date for August, 2007.


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