family detention

I hope everyone will take a little time and read Lost Children by Margaret Talbot, the New Yorker’s A Reporter at Large feature for March 3. I started reading this yesterday afternoon and continued to sit here with my mouth wide open for a good hour.

Imagine: Iranian man faces persecution for photo-copying a few pages of an apparently banned book for a friend in his small print shop. The man flees Iran and ends up seeking asylum in Canada; later his wife joins him. Years later their asylum is denied, after they have their first child, a Canadian citizen. The entire family is deported back to Iran, where they are jailed, the husband tortured for months. When they are released — desperate — they pay big money to arrange for fake papers to return to Canada. Bad luck strikes when a passenger on their flight has a heart attack and dies on the plane. The plane make an emergency landing in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, where the couple’s documents are reviewed and deemed to be fake. They end up in the T. Don Hutto Family Residence Facility in Taylor, Texas, in limbo, for six weeks.

Their story is used as an introduction to an in-depth feature on the the detention of non-criminal immigrants and asylum seekers, particularly the detention of children, who compose half the population of the Hutto facility, which is housed in a converted prison. The idea behind the detention center was apparently to keep families together, but as it is run by a private company, whose practices are very secretive, there was little knowledge and/or public accountability.

“Detainees said that when parents or children broke rules guards threatened them with separation from their children. Kevin Yourdkhani, [the 10-year-old Canadian-born son of the Iranian couple] at the prompting of one of Hines’s law students, wrote a brief description of one such occasion. ‘I was in my bed and my dad came to fix my bed,’ he wrote. ‘When the police came and saw my dad in the room, he said, ‘If He comes and see my dad again in my room His going to put my mom in a siprate jail and my dad in a sipate jail and me a foster kid.’ I cried and cried so much that I lost my energy. I went to sleep. I felt If I will be siprated I can never see my parents again, and I will get stepparents and they will hurt me or maybe they will kill me.'”

Among other shocking policies, children were required to stay with their parents at all times, including during discussions with attorneys about abuse, rapes and killings they experienced or witnessed in their home countries. The article discusses an A.C.L.U. lawsuit which resulted in the change of many of the most draconian policies as well as the practice of using privately run prison-like facilities for non-criminals.

The article also suggests that if the government’s goal was simply to avoid having these in limbo immigrants disappearing into the U.S., they could be allowed into society and tracked with wristbands.

“Why did the government turn to a former prison in the first place? It wasn’t the most cost effective option. C.C.A. (Corrections Corporation of America) charges the government nearly thirty-four million dollars a year to run the facility. And whereas close supervision of a released immigrant costs only about twelve dollars a day, incarcerating one costs about sixty-one, according to a 2000 study by the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit organization based in New York.”

Today as I was composing this post I was reading a message board and randomly came across a blogger whose site is dedicated to advocating the closing of the Hutto facility. Small world.

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