LatinaLista — It’s approaching the one-year anniversary of when news exploded nationwide about conditions at the T. Don Hutto family immigrant detention facility outside Austin, Texas.
After reports surfaced of children being intimidated by guards to behave by using threats of not seeing their parents again, the inedible food that made the detained families sick, the prison-like regulations that forbade children from seeing their parents at night, sexual abuse and the neglect for the detainees’ healthcare, advocates who wanted to see a more humane treatment of these families by our government laid all their hopes at the feet of the local county officials.
And it looked like the Williamson County officials were on their way to shut down the ICE facility, run by the Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), until lawyers for the CCA made an offer to the local officials that they couldn’t resist.
Williamson County commissioners met this week to decide the fate of the T. Don Hutto facility. Expectations were high that the commissioners would vote to close the facility after the commissioners recently received a letter from the federal government making it plain that the county was contractually bound to maintain the facility.
The main point of the letter wanted the commissioners to explain why a detainee monitoring system wasn’t used that could have prevented an “inappropriate sexual relationship between an employee and a detainee at the center.”
County Judge Dan A. Gattis, speaking on behalf of the Williamson County commissioners, said that the daily happenings and facility maintenance were responsibilities local officials did not want.
The meeting to basically decide the date when the facility should be closed was crowded with the expected players: CCA employees, wearing maroon shirts, who were naturally outspoken in voicing their concerns over losing their jobs and the immigrants’ supporters, who were just as vocal about shutting the facility down.
Who wasn’t expected to be there were the lawyers for the CCA who proposed a sweet deal to the commissioners: They would draw up a new contract giving the county free legal protection if it should ever face litigation over its involvement with the facility.
But that wasn’t all. To sweeten the pot even more, the lawyers were authorized by the CCA to offer $250,000 worth of credit in case the county loses or has to settle a suit.
It was enough of an offer to make the commissioners pause and delay their vote on the facility.
Claiming that it’s not the immigration issue or even how the detainees are treated that bother the commissioners, they say it’s all about liability.
This gets down to us really on a liability issue. That doesn’t mean all the human rights stuff goes past us. We’re really concerned about that, but this issue really boils down to the contract,” Judge Dan Gattis said.
A statement that is both disturbing and serves as a forewarning of what will happen if the commissioners vote to keep the T. Don Hutto facility open with the CCA running it.
The commissioners have already washed their hands of what is going on in the facility. They have made it very clear that they don’t want to babysit the CCA, and usually those “children” without supervision run amok and do whatever they want to do.
Which means that the families are in even more danger because they will then be at the mercy of a company that knows it can do whatever it wants without interference or reproach from local officials.
It will be back to the detainees’ lawyers to bring the stories out to the public to let us all know how little human dignity and children are valued in places that are promoted to be “family” centers.
True, there have been improvements at the Hutto facility, but that was only after much outside pressure and publicity. Never once did ICE or CCA take the initiative to correct what was wrong at these facilities or investigate the complaints of the detainees without public pressure.
For the Williamson County commissioners to take the cowardly route of turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to a facility that by its very nature needs to be monitored, simply because they don’t want “to get in between the federal government and a private corporation,” is a sad display of leadership or lack of it.
And it is also another blatant example of how easily government officials can be bought when the price is right.