The Associated Press is reporting that the government has settled the lawsuit brought by the ACLU and others over the detention of immigrant children at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas.
The Hutto detention center, a converted medium-security prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has come under fierce criticism from human rights activists and immigration lawyers. The trial against ICE by several Hutto families was set to open today (Monday) but Judge Sam Sparks had already told Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this spring that the families were likely to prevail.
The settlement does not close the prison or release all the children incarcerated there, but does better conditions at the jail. According to the ACLU's statement released today:
Additional improvements ICE will be required to make as a result of the settlement include allowing children over the age of 12 to move freely about the facility; providing a full-time, on-site pediatrician; eliminating the count system so that families are not forced to stay in their cells 12 hours a day; installing privacy curtains around toilets; offering field trip opportunities to children; supplying more toys and age-and language-appropriate books; and improving the nutritional value of food. ICE must also allow regular legal orientation presentations by local immigrants' rights organizations; allow family and friends to visit Hutto detainees seven days a week; and allow children to keep paper and pens in their rooms. ICE's compliance with each of these reforms, as well as other conditions reforms, will be subject to external oversight to ensure their permanence.
Since the lawsuit was filed, all of the 26 children named in it have been released from Hutto. The last few were just released prior to the settlement, moving out of the lockup to live with family members while they await hearings to determine their asylum cases. One child formerly locked up in Hutto, 12-year-old Andrea Restrepo, is quoted by the ACLU:
"I feel much better, I feel tranquil, I can do things now I couldn't do there," said Restrepo. "I am trying to forget everything about Hutto. I feel free. It was a nightmare."
Despite the settlement, the ACLU continues its opposition to Hutto and "remains adamant that detaining immigrant children at Hutto is inappropriate, and calls on Congress to compel the Department of Homeland Security to find humane alternatives for managing families whose immigration status is in limbo."