LatinaLista — Saturday, June 20, is World Refugee Day. It's a day that the world is asked to come together in solidarity in asking governments to recognize that all refugees are entitled to basic human rights -- such as the right to freedom.
In the United States, there are pockets of the country where this basic human right is being deprived because of the government's immigration policies. Immigrants from all over the world, not just Mexico and Latin America, are being held indefinitely in detention centers until their cases are heard.
They have little, if any, contact with the outside world.
Yet, among this group of immigrants being detained behind bars is one group that should not be there -- children.
One of the most notorious detention facilities, where the nation was first alerted to the fact that mothers with their young children were living under penal-type conditions, is the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility.
Since it was first discovered as detaining children within their walls, the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division, which oversees the facility, went into overdrive to address the many concerns that groups and international human rights representatives expressed when they saw the facility and the families incarcerated there.
Though it has come a long way in correcting many shortcomings, there's no good way to imprison children for any length of time.
So, this Father's Day weekend Amnesty Internatioinal, National LULAC and over 50 groups of concerned citizens will hold a two-day event culminating in a caravan from Austin to Taylor, Texas, home of the T. Don Hutto facility, to draw attention to the fact that no civilized country should be in the business of family detention.
Unlike past protests, there's a particular urgency to this weekend's march. In August, the lawsuit settlement that forced ICE to improve conditions at the facility for the families expires.
Advocates have strong reason to believe that ICE will revert to their former standards of detaining these families which included having them wear prison-style uniforms, limited outside recess for the children and separation tactics to intimidate the children to behave.
In addition to the settlement that forced the changes at T. Don Hutto expiring in August, ICE has proposed three new family detention centers be created across the country.
The idea behind these facilities was to stop the capture-and-release practice alleging that immigrants were not showing up for their immigration hearings. Yet, a study by the Vera Institute found that more than 90 percent of immigrants on a supervised release program attended their immigration hearings. The average cost of a supervision program is $12 a day compared to reportedly over $200 a day to detain a person at Hutto.
But demanding the end of family detention is only one element of this weekend's demands by supporters of the detained immigrant families. Another demand is that President Obama ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The United States shares the dubious honor of being one of only two countries that has not ratified the international document recognizing "a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations, that provides protection and support for the rights of children, recognizing that people under 18 years of age often need special care and protection that adults do not."
Proclamation issued by Austin Mayor Will Wynn.
The only other country that shares our disregard for the document? Somalia.
In an extraordinary show of support of Saturday's march, the Mayor of Austin, Will Wynn, issued a special proclamation today that said in part:
We join in harmony with voices worldwide in support of reasonable and humane immigration policies, especially those that provide just and viable alternatives to institutional detention of children and families as they await resolution of their immigrant status;
Jay Johnson-Castro, one of the event organizers, emailed:
This is not just about the children imprisoned in Hutto. This is about treating immigrant families with kindness and dignity all across our land. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of children that are imprisoned around our country. This is about them too.
Our objective is to reach our lawmakers all the way to Congress and the Obama administration, including Napolitano. There is no reason that we cannot. Freeing innocent children from "for profit" prisons should be considered the kind of "Change that we can hope for and believe in". If Obama is serious about the immigration issue...he should start with Hutto! It should not take a comprehensive immigration reform act to free children from the grips of corporate and inhumane greed.
... Hutto started three years ago under Bush and Chertoff. Six months into 2009...children are still imprisoned under the Obama and Napolitano leadership.
The weekend's event begins Friday night (June 19) in Austin with a concert fundraiser. On Saturday, the vigil protesters will meet outside the gates of the Hutto facility beginning at 2 p.m. for a two-hour program and rally that will include speakers, music and a petition drive.
Organizers of the event are pleased to know that a flyer outlining the weekend activities has made it all the way into the hands of President Obama.
The bigger wish now is that he takes the flyer's message to heart rather than rolls it up to swat flies.
(For complete information on Friday's concert and Saturday's vigil, click here.)