As the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) prepared for a June 20, 2009 protest in Williamson County, Texas outside the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility, a secure immigration detention center run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), it was revealed that LULAC had accepted substantial donations from the private prison company.
According to LULAC’s national convention programs for 2005, 2006 and 2007, CCA was a Patron-level donor for each of those years. Patron-level means a donation of $10,000 or more; the company was also an exhibitor at the 2005 and 2007 conventions. Some critics said CCA’s sponsorship of LULAC events dated back to 2002.
Jaime Martinez, a San Antonio labor activist and LULAC’s National Treasurer, explained that he and LULAC President Rosa Rosales initiated the return of CCA’s 2007 sponsorship funds as soon as they learned about disturbing conditions at Hutto – conditions that resulted in a lawsuit against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), which led to much-needed reforms at the facility. [See: PLN, Jan. 2008, p.20; Aug. 2007, p.10]. Referring to the money as “tainted,” Martinez said LULAC didn’t want CCA’s sponsorship.
Before the controversy erupted over the maltreatment of immigration detainees at Hutto, including women and children, LULAC was on good terms with CCA because the company had a program for detainees to earn a GED equivalent prior to their deportation. CCA has been involved in immigrant detention for well over a decade. According to LULAC National Executive Director Brent Wilkes, CCA’s most recent donation was used to sponsor a Latino law enforcement awards breakfast during LULAC’s 2007 national conference.
“But when we found out about the Hutto facility,” said Wilkes, “we returned the funds. We felt very strongly that we didn’t want to be associated with that.” Wilkes also noted that the inclusion of CCA on LULAC’s current list of preferred companies was an oversight. “I imagine that’s an old list,” he said. “That’ll be fixed.”
Federal officials announced in August 2009 that immigrant detainee families would no longer be housed at the Hutto prison, and would instead be placed at a more suitable residential center in Pennsylvania. The move was part of a re-structuring of ICE detention priorities. Hutto will continue to hold female immigration detainees, but not families or children.
ACLU attorney Vanita Gupta, who led the lawsuit over conditions at Hutto, expressed cautious optimism about the population change at the CCA facility. “The ending of family detention at Hutto is welcome news and long overdue,” she said. “However, without independently enforceable standards, a reduction in beds, or basic due process before people are locked up, it is hard to see how the government’s proposed overhaul of the immigration detention system is anything other than a reorganization or renaming of what was in place before.”
The last immigrant detainee families left Hutto in September 2009 after being deported, paroled or released from custody. Williamson County Commissioners voted on September 1, 2009 to end the county’s contract with CCA, pending a new contract with ICE to house female detainees at the facility.
Sources: www.sacurrent.com, www.lulac.org, New York Times, Associated Press
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