But the biggest shift concerns family detention. In 2006 George Bush said he would end a policy known as â€?catch and releaseâ€?, whereby illegal immigrants were allowed to go free after being caught because so many of them failed to turn up for subsequent court proceedings. But detaining children and families proved more delicate than holding lone adults. Later that year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) opened a facility specifically for families in Taylor, a small town north of Austin.
The T. Don Hutto Family Residential Centre was formerly a medium-security prison. In its new incarnation it is still run by the Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company. And inside, Hutto used to be just like a jail. Barbara Hines, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texasâ€™s law school, says that she was shocked when she started visiting: children were wearing prison uniforms and the parents were depressed and desperate. Everyone was cooped up in cells for most of the day, and the children had only an hour or so of lessons.
In March 2007 the Immigration Clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union sued Michael Chertoff, then the head of the Department of Homeland Security, over the conditions at Hutto. In August that year the parties settled, with the government agreeing to a list of reforms. That agreement was set to expire later this month, but on August 6th ICE announced an overhaul of Americaâ€™s approach to detention. As immediate steps, the government would put monitors in many of the adult facilities, and immediately stop detaining families at Hutto.
The announcement raises questions. For one thing, it is not clear where the families are going to go. ICE said that it would move them to the Berks Family Residential Centre in Pennsylvania, but that facility is full. And although Berks is somewhat nicer than Hutto, immigrantsâ€™-rights groups are still sceptical about keeping children in detention at all.
When home is prison The Economist August 13, 2009
If you'll stop crying for a moment, you'll see who is to blame here—the parents. Very rarely do people bring their children along to a crime scene, but most of these people broke and entered into America with their children, sometimes dragging them through the desert or across the Rio Grande at the risk of their lives.
They did it because they wanted more money—frequently your money, of course, but even the money they broke in to earn is stolen from someone. That's why you get whole families being arrested—everyone in the family is illegal and deportable.
But the only way that children can be kept in immigration detention is if the parents refuse deportation. Anyone who is willing to accept a ticket home can have one. So it's the parents who brought the kids to the US, in the hope of grabbing some American dollars, and its the parents who are keeping them in detention while they appeal. And the reason they're doing it is for money.