For three years, students and faculty in the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law litigated and advocated, as part of a coordinated community effort, to close down the T. Don Hutto Immigration Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, a former medium security prison which housed immigrant families and children, many of whom were asylum seekers. As part of this effort, the clinic, along with the national and Texas ACLU and the law firm of Dewey and LeBouef, reached a settlement in August 2007 which improved substandard conditions at the facility.
But on Thursday, August 6, 2009, the clinic celebrated success with the news that the federal government will end family detention at the Hutto facility.
The decision to close Hutto is part of a larger overhaul of the nation’s immigration detention system announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. According to the announcement, Hutto will become a women’s detention center and families at Hutto will be housed at a facility in Pennsylvania or kept under supervised release. As part of this new policy, the government agreed to extend the settlement reached with the U.T. Immigration Clinic and the ACLU until December 31, 2009.
Professor Barbara Hines, director of the Immigration Clinic, said, “I am pleased that the government has decided to close Hutto. The facility should never have been opened in the first place to house children and their parents. I do not believe that immigrant children should be detained and hope that DHS will implement available alternatives to family detention.”
Not long after the Hutto facility opened in May 2006, the Immigration Clinic began fighting to improve the living conditions at Hutto for families and children. “I was shocked at the conditions when our clinic first began to visit Hutto in the fall of 2006,” Hines said.
“I would like to emphasize the work of the students and our clinic in bringing about the closure of Hutto,” said Frances Valdez, a UT law school graduate and clinical fellow during the Hutto litigation and ensuing settlement. Valdez was the one of first attorneys who visited Hutto. “Since then students have provided direct representation to families detained at Hutto, assisted in the federal litigation, and have been instrumental in settlement implementation and monitoring,” Hines said.
Hines noted that students under the supervision of Professor Denise Gilman, who teaches in the Immigration Clinic, also filed briefing papers before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, challenging detention of families at Hutto under human rights norms. Several weeks before the announcement to close Hutto was issued, from July 20th to 24th, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited Hutto and several other immigration detention facilities and expressed concern about Hutto and the U.S. government’s broad use of detention for asylum seekers and their accompanying minor children.
“This success was a huge group effort on the part of our clinic, students, lawyers and community advocates,” Hines added. The work of the UT Law clinic at Hutto was featured in a documentary film, The Least of These.
Professor Barbara Hines, Immigration Clinic, UT Law, 512-232-1310, email@example.com
Kirston Fortune, UT Law Communications, 512-471-7330, firstname.lastname@example.org