New York, NY - Officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offered a media tour today at a controversial detention center for immigrant and asylum-seeking families: the Don T. Hutto Residential Center (Hutto) in Taylor, Texas. The event was arranged to showcase the changes made since the new Family Residential Standards were adopted in January 2008. The new standards were developed following a lawsuit against ICE that was settled in August 2007. The lawsuit came about after mounting criticism from the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children and other non-governmental organizations about the poor treatment that families—and in particular, children—suffered at the detention center.
As reported in the Associated Press this morning, "ICE officials say the changes would have been implemented even without the lawsuit."
Michelle Brané, director of the detention and asylum program with the Women's Commission, says, "We commend ICE for making huge improvements over what we reported on following our first visit, nearly 18 months ago, and we appreciate the agency's efforts to adopt these reforms. We do believe, however, that these improvements are a direct result of the advocacy of a number of humanitarian organizations that were alarmed at the poor conditions. Despite such gains, the Women's Commission continues to be concerned about the practice of detaining families. As we have repeatedly said, serious consideration needs to be given to alternatives to mandatory confinement."
In December 2006, Brané was granted unprecedented access to Hutto. The Women's Commission's resulting report (written with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service), Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families exposed the poor conditions at the center and contributed to sweeping changes in the system.