"They Treat Us Like We're Nothing"
We told you it would happen yesterday, and it has come to pass: Today down in Austin, the American Civil Liberties Union filed lawsuits on behalf of 10 immigrant children -- ages 3 to 16 and who are from Canada, Lithuania, Haiti, Guyana, Somalia and Honduras -- who are being detained at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility down in Taylor. The suits, which are filled with horrific accounts of conditions in the prison in which children and their mothers are being detained and often threatened with separation from each other, were filed against Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and six officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
You can read all of the complaints here; on the ACLU's site, you will also find statements from the children and their parents. They offer variations on a theme: In order to keep kids in line, guards will often threaten to separate them from their mothers (and vice versa); the educational programs offered in the prison are inadequate, at best; and medical care is often non-existent. Among the filings is one from 16-year-old Egle Baubonyte, a Lithuanian girl being held at Hutto along with her mother and sister. "Conditions for little kids or even babies are really bad," she says in her statement. "There's no pediatrician. Nurses don't care about if babies are sick. They treat us like we're nothing."
As the ACLU has pointed out, there are some 400 people being held at Hutto, and half are children. "And many of them are refugees seeking political asylum," reads the ACLU's release. "What ICE calls a "Family Residential Facility" is in fact a converted medium-security prison that is still functionally and structurally a prison. Children are required to wear prison garb, receive only one hour of recreation a day, Monday through Friday, and some children did not go outdoors in the fresh air the whole month of December, 2006, according to legal papers filed today. They are detained in small cells for 11-12 hours each day where they cannot keep food and toys and they have no privacy, even when using the toilet."
Hutto, of course, first received national attention last month, when the son of a Palestinian family that had been detained there for three months told reporters that he and his family, who live in Richardson, were forced to sleep together in 8-by-8-foot cells with small windows. --Robert Wilonsky
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