Monday, August 13, 2007

Tx immigration detention centers, horrible conditions

This is America? Children held in a prison, no comfort, no toys and no joy. What would make someone hate America? Probably this. Why make more enemies? This is not the country I grew up in. I am disgusted.

Of the two all-ages detention facilities operated by the government, the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center, which opened in May, is the newest and largest, and holds roughly 200 minors and their relatives who have been arrested or detained across the border. It is the only detention center housed in a former prison, and agency officials say it has been extensively renovated into "a modern, state-of-the-art facility."

Yet lawyers and human rights advocates question the ethics and legality of imprisoning children and say T. Don Hutto is, regardless, a bad place to start. "It's clearly not a setting that is appropriate for families," says Michelle Brané, an investigator with the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children who toured the facility late last year. She says a typical prison routine still exists there: all children who are big enough must wear scrubs akin to prison uniforms, and there's little to occupy their time besides lounging in the "pod," the communal space walled off by prison cells. When not hanging out there, children receive a single hour of physical recreation each day and, at the time Brané visited, a single hour of schooling in the form of an all-ages English class. (The classes were upped to four hours recently, and are expanding to the seven hours required in Texas public schools.) Brané was not impressed by efforts to brighten the pod with carpet and a mural depicting an ocean scene: "It's definitely a penal environment."

Faten, the five-year-old detainee, suffered from nightmares and often sobbed uncontrollably at T. Don Hutto, according to a lawsuit seeking her family's release that was filed late last month by a private attorney. In one instance she was "yelled at and threatened with 'punishment' for her failure to 'stand still'" during the prison's daily population count, the suit said. Her mother, Hanan, who is now five months pregnant, complained of being too tired to join daily showers at 5:30 a.m., but was told that if she didn't she could be put in solitary confinement, according to the suit. To see a gynecologist, according to the lawsuit, Hanan had to travel two hours away, bound in leg irons the entire time, for each prenatal appointment. Her absence from the pod so upset Faten and her siblings, aged eight and 14, that their mother stopped seeking medical treatment rather than leave them alone.

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