The T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas finally stopped jailing immigrant families in 2009 after a lawsuit alleged the conditions at the immigration lockup violated even the feds’ own minimum standards for housing minors. Court filings described children forced to wear orange prison jumpsuits, sleeping with the lights on, locked in cells for 12 hours at a time, and only receiving up to an hour of school every day.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2014, and the surge of Central American women and children coming across the border, asylum seekers fleeing raging violence in their home countries, had convinced federal immigration officials to again get into the family detention business. In December, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement built the largest immigrant detention center in the country some 70 miles southwest of San Antonio in Dilley, Texas. The facility, built to hold up to 2,400 undocumented asylum-seeking women and children, would be run by the same for-profit prison company that ran Hutto: the Corrections Corporation of America.
This past week, immigration attorneys have cited an incident at Dilley that they say is yet another sign that the feds need to end the practice of jailing immigrant families. According to attorneys with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, some 250 children held in Dilley this weekend were mistakenly given full adult doses of the Hepatitis A vaccine.
Crystal Williams, AILA executive director, claims volunteer attorneys at Dilley have noted a disturbing pattern of inadequate healthcare for women and children held at the detention center. Williams called the latest incident “beyond appalling,” but said it’s indicative of the conditions in which these families are held. “Children have been forced to sleep with the lights on, are subject to intrusive checks regularly throughout the night, and have been dragged from their beds at 4:00 am to be given shots while their mothers must stand helplessly by without being told what is going on or being allowed a say in the matter,” she said in a statement.
An ICE spokesman told the Associated Press that healthcare professionals were monitoring the kids for potential side effects, and that none had to be hospitalized. But Barbara Hines, co-director of the immigration law clinic at the University of Texas who helped lead the lawsuit against Hutto, said she visited Dilley over the past week and met with a mother who complained that her 4-year-old child was “feverish, not eating, having trouble walking, and complaining of the pain in his leg” after receiving the vaccine. “The latest incident again makes clear why children and their mothers should not be detained,” Hines said in a statement. “Private prisons cannot care for families and these facilities must be closed.”
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Dilley is just one of two detention centers for immigrant families in Texas run by for-profit prison groups. The ICE detention camp in Karnes, Texas, which houses some 400 asylum-seeking women and children, is run by the GEO Group, which, like the Corrections Corporation of America, has seen profits rise as increased immigration enforcement raised the number of immigrants locked up in detention centers.