Ten Lawsuits: On March 6, 2007, the national ACLU, the ACLU of Texas, and the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic filed ten lawsuits in federal court in Austin, Texas, to challenge the federal government’s policy of illegally detaining children from around the world at the T. Don Hutto detention center, a converted medium-security prison, in Taylor, Texas.
Plaintiffs: The ten plaintiffs are children, ages three to sixteen, who are from Lithuania, Canada, Haiti, Guyana, Somalia, and Honduras. Many of them have fled persecution, war, and devastation in their home countries. Many of their parents are seeking asylum, and have been found by trained asylum officers to have credible fears of persecution. One of the plaintiffs, a 13-year-old girl, has been detained at the Hutto facility for 176 days and counting.
Defendants: Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and six officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are responsible for illegally detaining about 200 children at the Hutto facility.
Congressional Directive To DHS: The defendants’ use of the Hutto facility to detain children and families directly contravenes the expressed intent of Congress. In 2005, 2006, and 2007, Congress directed DHS to keep immigrant families together, and either to release such families altogether or to use alternatives to detention.
What The Law Requires: In January 1997, the U.S. Department of Justice entered into a settlement agreement in Flores v. Meese, No. 85-cv-4544 (C.D. Cal.). The Flores settlement established minimum standards and conditions for the housing and release of all minors in federal immigration custody. Recognizing the particular vulnerability of children in detention, the settlement requires the federal government to:
- Actively and continuously seek the release of each child in its custody unless the detention of the child is necessary to secure his or her appearance in court or to secure his or her safety;
- Place those children who must be detained in the least restrictive setting appropriate for their ages and special needs; and,
- Provide essential benefits and services to detained children, including suitable living conditions; suitable food; appropriate medical, dental, and mental health care; adequate educational services; and discipline which does not have adverse psychological consequences.
The detention of children at the Hutto facility violates virtually every provision of the Flores settlement.
Conditions at Hutto: Hutto is structurally and functionally a prison. Children are required to wear prison garb. Some children did not go outdoors in the fresh air the entire month of December 2006. They are detained in small cells for about 11 or 12 hours each day, prohibited from keeping food, writing implements, and toys in their cells, and hardly have any privacy. Despite their urgent needs, they lack access to adequate medical, dental, and mental health treatment, and are denied adequate educational opportunities. Guards frequently discipline children by threatening to separate them permanently from their parents.
Alternatives to Hutto: Defendants have humane and cost-effective alternatives to detention that would satisfy the law. These include (1) the Intensive Supervision Assistance Program (“ISAP”), a program that utilizes electronic monitoring as a way to supervise immigrants released into the community, and for which Congress specifically allocated funding; (2) Casa San Juan, a 24-hour care facility run by Catholic Charities in San Diego, with which the U.S. Marshal Service has a contract; and (3) Casa Marianella, a refugee home in Austin, Texas.
Relief Sought: Each lawsuit seeks to enforce the Flores settlement, to secure each child’s release to her parent, and to ensure that she is not separated from her parent and siblings.
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