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Jailing Kids Is Wrong

by Daniel M. Kowalski, Esq.

Weve been putting kids in immigration jail for decades. When will we stop? Now would be a good time.

The issue has come to a long-overdue boil thanks to recent media coverage of the "family" immigration jail in Taylor, Texas (a few miles outside of Austin,) the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, operated by the Corrections Corporation of America. Local residents, joined by activists and immigration attorneys, have formed an advocacy group named TUFF - Texans United for Families - aiming to shame the government into shutting the prison down.

Just prior to the media tour of the facility ICE gave the place a facelift and served pizza to the families for the first time. But no one was fooled. The ACLUs Rebecca Bernhardt said, "It's the lipstick on the pig problem. No matter how humane they make Hutto, the question still remains: Is it acceptable for the United States to imprison children? No, it's not."

ICE claims jailing families together ratchets up the success rate of expedited removals, and is part of their overall plan to end the era of so-called "catch and release." But past experience let alone common sense shows such detention is unnecessary.

In the late 1990s legacy INS engaged in a highly-successful alternative program through the Vera Institute of Justice. The immigration court appearance rate was 93%. A similar program run by Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services reported a 96% appearance rate. Is locking up three-, five- and eleven-year-olds, to guarantee the appearance of their parents, worth an extra few percent?

Jailing asylum-seekers is bad enough, but jailing their children is perverse. And it simply isnt necessary.

For years the ABA and other organizations have made great strides in pressuring the government to improve immigration detention standards, especially for children. Its time to go one better: stop putting kids in immigration jail altogether.