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Reactions to Hutto Settlement: A Good First Step, Much More To Go…

Last week’s settlement between the ACLU, University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic and other lawyers representing children in CCA’s T. Don Hutto family detention center and the Department of Homeland Security has brought a variety of reactions.

Vanita Gupta, a lead lawyer from the ACLU said of the settlement, "Though we continue to believe that Hutto is an inappropriate place to house children, conditions have drastically improved in areas like education, recreation, medical care, and privacy."

The settlement improves conditions at the facility and installs a Federal Magistrate to monitor the prison, amongst other changes.

Barbara Hines of the UT Immigration Law Clinic said "We are hopeful that by limiting the population at Hutto to families in expedited removal except in exigent circumstances, and adopting more meaningful release procedures, that the length of stay for children will be significantly reduced.

Still, most advocacy groups and media observers think the settlement is only a first step, with the ultimate issue of incarceration of innocent children and their families at Hutto still a pressing concern. Some of the reactions have included:

The Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, who together with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, issued the important Locking Up Family Values report in February on family detention called the settlement “a good first step” but the agency “remains concerned that finding alternatives to detention for families is not a priority.”

LIRS’s Annie Wilson was “proud that our report has led to concrete results at Hutto,” but added that “now it's time to take the next steps. We've demonstrated time and again that there are more humane alternatives that work.”

Taylor activist Jose Orta noted that the dozen protests outside the prison had an impact, but that “the facility retains its essential character as a medium security prison. The rights of children simply must come first. Simply put, you don't put innocent children in prison. The settlement agreement is a good first step but our work as concerned citizens has only just begun. We will continue to hold vigils and protest the detention of innocent children. T. Don Hutto as a residential center is flawed, inconsistent, and in violation of national and international standards.”

Less enthusiastic was Ralph Isenberg, the Dallas businessman who had been influential in the release of several Hutto families. Isenberg, in an interview with Dallas’s WFAA, argued that “had this thing gone to court I believe the judge would have shut this facility down because the fact still remains, you don't put children in prison."

Lisa Falkenberg of the Houston Chronicle had possibly the most pointed commentary on the settlement. “A limited settlement may be good news for many Hutto detainees. But it isn't the answer,” she wrote. “It will take an act of Congress to ensure humane treatment for immigrant children. As we've seen, we can't count on ICE officials to act on their own. It took federal litigation to persuade them to allow teddy bears.”

Texans United for Families, an advocacy coalition that I work with, applauded the settlement, while vowing “to increase its advocacy for closure of the prison and for more humane alternatives to detention of immigrant children and their families.”

The next vigil at Hutto is planned for September 29th.

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