PEACEFUL PROTEST: Jay-Johnson Castro, a resident of Del Rio, speaks to a crowd outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor. Castro has held seven protests near the facility since December. staff photo by DANIEL K. LAI
Protesters still defiant against T. Don Hutto
By Daniel K. Lai
Following a second three-day trek from the state capitol in Austin, roughly 75 protesters staged a five-hour protest and candlelight vigil outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor Sunday.
“We're not going anywhere,” Jose Orta, founding member of the Taylor League of United Latin American Citizens Council, said. “Just by being here we are making a difference. It's the little things that we can see happening. We're not going to move a mountain overnight. We'll take our victories as we get them.”
The 512-bed facility, which was remodeled and reopened in May 2006 under contract to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement service as a detention center for families, caught the eye of several human rights organizations following a Dec. 16 protest march against the detention of children. Previously, the facility housed county prisoners and federal detainees under various contracts with law enforcement agencies.
“We're here because we think this violates everything America stands for,” Jay Johnson-Castro of Del Rio said. “There is no longer this feeling of ‘give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free' in this country. The government baits immigrants with a promise of liberty and then they profit off of their incarceration.
“This isn't about keeping immigrants out of the country because it would be a lot cheaper to send them back home, not incarcerate them.”
According to the lease agreement between Williamson County and Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, the county agrees to subcontract all aspects of the facility's operations to CCA. In exchange, CCA receives payment of about $2.8 million from ICE to house up to 512 inmates. The company pays the county an administrative fee of $1 per day per inmate held at the facility.
“When people come here, they give up everything just to get here,” one of the protesters said Sunday. “I don't know what it would take for me to give up what I have and flee; it would have to be something awful. These people have given up so much already and then to be put in prison is just heart breaking.”
Elgin resident Magdalena Padron, said, as a mother, the issue of detaining children has affected her personally.
“There are no words to explain how I feel,” she said. “We're in a free country. To see them locked up in a free country doesn't make any sense.”
During a preliminary injunction hearing on Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the University of Texas law school's immigration clinic and an international law firm, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks called the continued detention of children in “substandard conditions” at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center an urgent problem.
In March, the ACLU filed the suit on behalf of 10 immigrant children, challenging their detention at the center. Since then, all but three of the cases have been dropped since seven of the 10 families have already been sent home.
The lawsuits - which charge that the children are being imprisoned under inhumane conditions - claim the detainees were subject to psychological abuse from guards, received poor medical care and inadequate nutrition at the center while their parents await immigration decisions.
Sparks set an expedited August trial date.
“As far as I'm concerned, this is a showdown between American democracy and American tyranny,” Johnson-Castro said.
“The government speaks on illegal immigrants who commit crimes,” one protester shouted. “For every one that does, there are hundreds who do not. No one mentions the thousands of dollars immigrants pay into Social Security of which they will never see a dime of. When it comes to the argument of our government having to spend taxpayers' dollars to capture these immigrants, I don't think so. I think these people are enriching us in more ways than one.”
~~I was the "protester" who "shouted" that last paragraph. Well, sort of. I'm pretty sure that's not exactly what I said--I don't believe I said anything about the government paying to "capture" people. I hope I used better grammar, too.