Drawn by a child inmate at the Hutto Detention Center
ICE has made an agreement with local government officials to add an additional 250 inmates at the infamous T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas. The problem is that the current detainees are families with children who are there for immigration violations. The group to be moved into the facility are prisoners, felons who have committed actual crimes.
The facility's administration notes that the two groups will be separated. Perhaps this is possible. But the symbolic move to join the immigrants with the prisoners blurs the line even further between being an undocumented immigrant (which is a civil offense) and being a felon. The families of Hutto will truly be able to say they are living in a prison.
Immigrant detention center might house more prisoners
Up to 250 female prisoners could move to T. Don Hutto Residential Center.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
The population of a controversial immigrant detention center in Taylor could double, after a new agreement Tuesday between Williamson County commissioners and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Since opening in May 2006, the 512-bed T. Don Hutto Residential Center has held immigrant children and their families while they await decisions in their immigration cases. There are 250 people living there, and Tuesday's change would add up to 250 "noncriminal" females in a separate, existing wing of the facility. County officials said the women would also be awaiting decisions on their immigration cases.
The facility has faced heavy criticism by protesters for what they call the wrongful imprisonment of children. It's also caused liability concerns for the county, after a guard was fired after he was accused of sexually assaulting a female detainee in May.
According to an incident report from the immigration agency, the guard entered the detainee's room and left 10 minutes later, adjusting his pants around the belt area. Signs of physical trauma were found on the woman, according to the documents. Officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the incident but said they found no criminal activity and closed the investigation in June.
A few months after the incident, county commissioners debated whether to keep their contract with the federal government and Corrections Corp. of America, the private company that owns and operates the facility. The county serves as an intermediary between the company and the federal government.
Commissioners voted to keep the contract after it was amended in November to give the county more legal protection, should it face litigation for its involvement with the facility. The contract expires Jan. 31, 2009.
Despite last year's incident, Commissioner Cynthia Long said Tuesday that she was comfortable with adding more female prisoners, saying new measures have been put in place to prevent future incidents.
Some of those include more staff training and education on how to operate video and security equipment, Assistant County Attorney Hal Hawes said. Hawes said additional security guards probably would be hired to watch the women.
Calls to Corrections Corp. on Tuesday were not returned.
The additional detainees will not cost the county anything, said County Judge Dan A. Gattis, nor will they change the amount of money the county gets from Corrections Corp. — about $15,800 monthly.
Nina Pruneda, a spokeswoman with the immigration agency,Enforcement, said the women will come from immigrant detainment facilities around the country and probably will not all be moved into the facility at once. Pruneda said she didn't know whether the number of women moved to the facility would reach 250.
Tuesday's contract change came as a surprise to some residents opposed to the facility.
"I'm so adamant that this is wrong, but I don't know how we can go about changing this mind-set," said Jose Orta, president of the Taylor chapter of League of United Latin American Citizens. "This is just adding more fuel to the fire for us."
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