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Border Crisis Revives Dormant Family Detention Program

July 25, 2014 (1 min read)

A flood of families crossing the southwestern U.S. border illegally is prompting the Obama administration to revive a much-criticized detention program that previously led to children and their parents being held for extended periods of time in harsh prison-like conditions. ... The U.S. has tried large-scale family detention before.  That operation sparked a lawsuit after it was discovered that children and their parents were being held in a former prison for long periods in punitive conditions.  In 2007, advocates sued the Department of Homeland Security, alleging it was keeping families at the 512-bed T. Don Hutto Residential Center near Austin, Texas, under virtual 24-hour lockdown and denying them privacy, educational opportunities and adequate health care.  The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant advocates, said toddlers in prison garb spent most of the day locked in their cells at the private facility run by the Corrections Corporation of America, waiting for head counts.  When the ACLU investigated in December 2006, it said some children had not stepped outside in a month.  “The conditions were truly horrible,” said Vanita Gupta deputy legal director of the ACLU, who helped bring the lawsuit.  The suit was settled and the government agreed to changes at what was then the nation’s largest family detention facility.  Then in 2009, the Obama administration announced a widespread overhaul of its detention system that included shuttering Hutto . ICE kept open only one small family detention facility in Pennsylvania, releasing most families with an order to appear in court when notified of immigration proceedings.  The unprecedented number of families apprehended at the border in the last year has led to a reversal of that policy." - Hannah Rappleye and Lisa Riordan Seville, July 25, 2014.