Just before noon on Saturday some 50 protesters, including members of Houston's Students for a Democratic Society, gathered at the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center outside Taylor, Texas, a holding facility for families of undocumented immigrants that are waiting for immigration-court dates. Opposed to Hutto's policy of detaining families with children, the group included a group of children protesters -- the A-Scouts.
"The A-Scouts are sort of an alternative, more political version of the Girl and Boy Scouts. The group is made up of elementary school kids. They made up chants and wrote [slogans] in chalk on the drive-way to the detention center," SDS student organizer Robinson Block tells Hair Balls.
Run by a private for-profit-corporation, Hutto, and other centers like it, are at the center of the immigration debate. "It's a facility that's run by a private company, the Corrections Corporation of America," says Block. "It used to be a medium security prison that was closed because it wasn't making enough profit for the company. They re-opened it as a detention center for immigrant families."
Block says his group is concerned about several aspects of Hutto: "We have problems with it being run for profit. We have a problem with children being incarcerated -- more than 120 children that are detained there."
During their protest, Block and the others could see the center's playground, a small yard with slides and jungle gyms surrounded by three layers of barbed wire security fencing. As Block and the others arrived, the children playing there were quickly shuffled away. "Prior to 2006, they did not detain immigrant children in prison-like settings. It was an arbitrary change and we are hoping that Obama will end that policy," he says.
"There's a bunch of alternatives that are much less repressive, and much more respectful of human rights and cheaper for the tax payers," Block says. "Families are not a threat to the community. I think they should be released on bail or their own recognizance with a court date.
"Before 2006, it was basically against the rules to detain families.They would say, 'Okay, here's your court date,' and then the person would come back later..."
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Block is referring to the INS "Catch-and-Release" policy. For years, when an undocumented immigrant was detained by officials, instead of being immediately returned to their home country, they would be released and told to return at a future date for a deportation hearing. Of course, almost none of the immigrants ever returned. Centers like Hutto were established to detain the immigrants to assure they would appear.
Still Block and his group object to Hutto and other centers like it. "I don't think we should be using prisons to deal with immigration," he says flatly.
"There are other forms of detention. There's ankle bracelets. To be keeping someone in Hutto costs $200 per day. A bracelet has a one-time cost of $50 and lasts for some time. It's less restrictive on the immigrant and it's less money for a company that's profiting off of detaining children."
Block and other members of the SDS will be returning to Hutto in April for another protest. You can find out more about their efforts at www.grassrootsleadership.org.