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Imprisoned children: Has the war on terror gone too far?

For those of you who were appalled at the idea of children in prisons, brace yourself.

I misspoke in my post The Parenting Prison when I said the prison in Spain was unique. It was, to the best of my knowledge and research, but I didn't google the right terms, apparently. And neither did any of the reporters.

There are other prisons in the world that host families. That imprison children.

And they are right here in the United States of America. Right here in the fantastic Republic of Texas. Right here, a nine year old Canadian boy (I've read conflicting reports about citizenship so am unclear about that, however, Canadian media appears to claim the boy) named Kevin* who is imprisoned in Taylor, Texas pleaded, over the phone, on the radio, "I just want to go to school...I just want to be free..."

This isn't any 5-star Disney-decorated prison either.

Kevin described sleeping on the floor of his family's prison cell, next to the toilet. He described having asthma, and being sick. He talked about missing the outdoors and running and playing with other children.

I heard this interview while driving my daughter to school. It was hard to drive safely, with the tears clogging my eyes, and my throat choked up. I told myself to change the station, but I couldn't. I thought of my daughter, imagined her in a prison, under the conditions the father and son described and my heart broke.

While I support family-friendly initiatives to protect the bond between incarcerated parents and their children, I don't support imprisoning entire families while the US takes as much time as they like to investigate whether these people might know anything about terrorism, deserve asylum, can be granted visa extensions, and so other words, while the US decides whether these people deserve to stay here.

The Department of Homeland Security recently opened the T. Don Hutto Detention Facility in Taylor, Texas for the exclusive purpose of detaining immigrants. Including, but not limited to, people who had no intention whatsever of being in the United States, such as Majid and his family.

They were on their way to Canada when one of their fellow plane passengers suffered a heart attack. The plane made an emergency landing in Puerto Rico, where Majid and his family were removed from the plane, detained, questioned, and sent to the prison in Texas.

Although the family is currently together, initially they were separated. Majid*, Kevin's father, said he and his wife were interrogated, and manhandled. His wife was told that he had been beaten into a coma, and later was told he was dead.

Listen to the segment at this link.

It appears that the family will be allowed legal counsel, but they aren't sure of the charges or evidence against them.

Majid and his family are not the first family detained:

Nazmieh Juma and her 11-year-old son, Mohammad, were held at the T. Don Hutto Family Dentention Center near Austin for three months. While they were not abused, they claim that the facility was more like a prison and less like the family-friendly center depicted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Although ICE prefers to call this a detention center that is family friendly versus a prison, those held there describe a different story.

Looks very family friendly and warm and welcoming, doesn't it? I hear the barbed wire is down after vehement protests, at least.

Juma's husband, two daughters, and two others sons are still being held at a center in Haskell.

Google "hutto+children" I got 271,000 results. It might not surprise you to see that most are highly critical and questoning articles. Note that some of the press has caused Hutto to alter some policies, such as removing the barbed wire and increasing children's school from 1 hour to 4 hours daily.

Here are some other links:

Canadian boy caught in Texas detention: a good overview with links to other news stories about this situation (cross posted at Daily Kos)

Feb. 16 article in Toronto Star: Canadian boy caught in Texas detention

The above article describes the conditions under which the family was detained, and adds in these details

"The interesting issue here is they weren't even trying to get into the U.S.," said Francis Valdez, a supervising attorney at the university's immigration clinic. "They were just trying to get back to Canada."

The parents said they hoped to reapply for asylum in Canada armed with evidence of what happened to them in Iran after they were deported.

Authorities at the Hutto detention centre have acknowledged holding 170 children there, says Barbara Hines, a University of Texas law professor.

It's a frightening experience for children, she said. Families are held in prison cells that have had the locks taken off. Laser beams detect when people get out of their beds, the professor said.

"Families get 15 minutes to eat and then the food is thrown out," Hines said. "Have you tried to feed a child and then yourself in 15 minutes?"

Greg Moses wrote about another Hutto child (pictured here, with her sister), in January:

Maryam Ibrahim was about two years old in 2000 when a gas canister crashed into her Palestinian home, rendering her unconscious for lack of breath. Pleading to USA authorities for asylum in 2002, Maryam's father Salaheddin testified that his little girl was fearful of people in uniform. Yet USA authorities have denied asylum and placed Maryam in jail where family members say she is not allowed to run indoors or go outdoors, and where every night at 10 p.m. she is ordered into a cell separate from where her pregnant mother is being kept. Frequently, Maryam cries. Maryam shares the overnight cell with older sister Rodaina, while younger sister Faten shares a cell with mother Hanan. Family members confirm reports that Hanan is not getting medical attention for her pregnancy, placing Maryam's little brother-to-be at risk.

These children and their families wear uniforms, and are tracked by motion detector alarms.

What must it do to a three year old, such as Mustafa Elmi, to have an alarm sound if he happens to slip out of bed?

I consider how often my children come to me in the night, fearful of a noise or dream. I can only imagine the damage to their psyche if an alarm sounded, and guards with guns rushed at us.

When I talked about supporting family bonds, when I talked about keeping up the relationship between incarcerated parents and children, I assure you this is not what I had in mind.

There are always two sides to every story, yes?

Side A:

ICE officials say the "state of the art" facility, which opened in May, is a humane alternative to severing immigrant families while parents wade through a swamp of bureaucracy, awaiting either asylum or deportation. The agency abandoned the old "catch and release" method after 9/11 because most immigrants weren't showing up for their hearings.

Side B:

"It is wrong for the United States to be detaining immigrant families with young children in a prisonlike environment when they have alternatives," said Rebecca Bernhardt, of the American Civil Rights League of Texas. "I don't think most Americans are aware that we're doing this. If they knew what the conditions were like, if they could see the families, they would find this pretty outrageous."

Source: Houston Chronicle, February 7, 2007, Critics call detainees facility 'harmful' for immigrant families by LISA FALKENBERG

Is this what passes for Immigration Reform these days?

Color me appalled.

* The names were changed to protect their identities.

P.S. Once again, I continue my posting flurry. Scroll down if you haven't been by in day or two.

Yesterday, I asked why we have to keep asking, "Can the US elect a black president?"

Wednesday, I applauded Chandra Wilson at the SAG awards.

Tuesday, I confessed that my SAHM-status doesn't mean I am open for childcare business.

Sunday and Monday I opened up about how The Parenting Prison made me feel.

If you commented, I have been going back to those comments, reading them, appreciating them tons, and replying. So check back!

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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kaliroz said…
That's just apalling. What have we come to where we seperate children from their parents in a freaking prison?

Those poor kids. To be cooped up without sunlight or room to run. What kind of childhood is that?

It makes me ashamed to be American, reading things like this. But how do you change things when there's a government in power that gives a rat's ass about human dignity? It's just so depressing.
Julie Pippert said…
Hey Roz, I know how you feel. But, take heart. Congress has changed. Nothing will ever be perfect, and there will always be people who believe the end justifies the means. However, we CAN change things. Just look at this story. Civil and human rights groups have kept up the presssure and ICE is making improvements in the quality of life, such as the increased school time and removing the barbed wire. It's not perfect, it's not even good, but it's progress. If we remain aware, and work at it, we can keep making progress.
First of all....congrats on the loss!

Second, the stories about these kids are so sad! Is the only other option for them foster care? To be honest, I am not sure if that is any better. I know there are many loving families that open their homes to foster children. But being a teacher in the public school system, I have seen some horror stories!
Julie Pippert said…
Queen, thanks!

Let's foster care the only other option? IMO, no. If the parents are to be automatically detained and held in a prison and there is not other family, then possibly.

Previously these people were given court dates and released "ROR" if I have that correctly.

ICE claims that too many were "no-shows" which I can take as credible.

I'm *SURE* though that there is a very wide space between out free with no checks and entire families penned up in prison.

It just seems like two extremes to me. Neither of which work.

So I'm hoping that we can make progress, find a middle ground.
thailandchani said…
This whole thing makes me absolutely sick. In fact, in the interest of keeping Homeland Security out of my livingroom, I'll just say...

I hear you.


NotSoSage said…
I'm visiting here from Mad's place. I have to admit that I have been meaning to drop by because I'm always so impressed by your comments...and then I was very interested to see you addressing this issue.

I'm actually hoping to start a labour support group for incarcerated women. That's a bit down the road, but I've been meaning to blog about it, too, and something keeps holding me back -- fear of not being able to do it justice, perhaps. Thanks for bringing this to light in the momosphere...
Kyla said…
Wow. I can't even believe this. This is seriously happening? Good God.

Here from Mad's. I'm loving the Thinking Blogger Awards. :)
Julie Pippert said…
Chani, I understand; I am *so* on The List. I get magically stopped at every airport. What a coinkydink. But anyway, thanks for listening.

Sage, Back at you. I initially began with a desire to help women fleeing abuse. Women who needed support with how to interview, job skills, understanding workplace expectations, etc. It is so needed. Thre are many groups that do this. Once I blogged about an unamed group helping unamed women fleeing abuse. These women wasnt to make it, start anew. There is such need. And the women in prison, coming out...a need just as great. I think your desire is fantastic. I look forward to your blog post...when you get there.

Kyla, all real. I'm very sorry to say, all real. Seriously, go Google. Thanks for coming by! I really appreciate it!
kim said…
I am truly stunned.

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