Will Texas return to detaining immigrant families?

In 2006, the state of Texas began detaining immigrant families and children at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, TX. The detention center did not stop housing immigrant children until 2009, after the ACLU of Texas sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Rather than turning to more humane and practical solutions like probation or home-like community shelters, however, Texas may soon reinstate the practice of detaining immigrant families. According to KUT, ICE recently requested 100 new family detention beds in the state.

We need to consider how the criminalization of immigration contributes to mass incarceration. We must also look at the looming possibility of family detention, the effects of which would be devastating to the physical and mental well-being of immigrant children and families in Texas. MW

Immigrant Family Detention Could Return to Texas

by Erika Aguilar

Undocumented families waiting for their immigration status to be determined could soon be held in detention centers in Texas. The federal government is reviewing contracts from companies interested in running them.

Central Texas housed immigrant families in the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor from 2006 to 2009, and some immigration rights advocates say they fear the practice of detaining families could return.

The ACLU of Texas sued the T. Don Hutto Center and  Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2007 for detaining immigrant children.

“The ICE field office started using its discretion a little more bit more wisely, allowing some of the bond-eligible families to bond out,” said Lisa Graybill, the legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “Others were placed in shelters like Casa Marianella, which is a shelter for immigrant families and immigrant women, and other sort of community-based alternatives.”

After that, the only detention center in the country still housing families was in Pennsylvania. That center will be closed in March. But last November, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement put out a request for proposal for 100 new family detention beds in Texas.

Graybill says this move is two steps forward, one step back. She says a former Texas Youth Commission facility in Crockett is one place she believes the federal government is considering.

“I’m not saying that the United States doesn’t have the obligation to police its borders and that ICE doesn’t have the responsibility to monitor immigration enforcement, I’m just saying in terms of detention, while a status is being adjudicated, there are more reasonable places we can house people that are more cost effective and more humane,” Graybill said.

Only women are now being held at the T. Don Hutto center, which has 512 beds.

Andrea Black, executive director of the Detention Watch Network, a national coalition of immigration organizations, says that sometimes when mothers get arrested for being in the country illegally, the children are the ones who suffer and get put into the state foster care system.

“A year later, the children are put through a process where their parental rights are severed, and the mother has no idea that this is even happening and no way to fight on behalf of their children,” Black said.

Immigrant rights advocates say probation-like alternatives should be used instead, including ankle bracelets, home visits and home-like community shelters.

It’s not clear whether the federal government plans to build a family detention center for immigrants or whether community shelters are being considered too. The bids were due to the federal government this month, so more information could be released soon.

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