ACLU Settles Suit on Illegal-Immigrant Holding Facility

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The federal government yesterday announced the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against conditions at a government detention center for illegal immigrant children and families in Taylor, Tex.

The deal averted a trial set to open in U.S. District Court in Austin, and it was made after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began improving education, recreation, medical care and privacy standards at its first large holding facility for illegal immigrant families, the 512-bed T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility, which opened in May 2006.

The Bush administration has continued to emphasize tougher enforcement efforts after this summer's collapse of immigration legislation in Congress, but unions and other liberal activist groups are stepping up pressure on behalf of immigrants.

For instance, the Service Employees International Union plans today to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore., against another federal immigration agency, charging that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services exceeded its authority by raising fees significantly July 30, including increasing charges for citizenship applicants from $400 to $675.

The increase "presents a huge barrier to thousands of immigrants" anxious to vote in the 2008 presidential primary and general elections, said Eliseo Medina, the union's executive vice president. "This lawsuit is about accountability."

Under the ACLU detention agreement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed to place families who have a legal basis to contest deportation -- such as asylum claims -- in Hutto only if no other space is available. Families facing expedited removal proceedings, where no hearing is required, may be detained but their cases must be reviewed every 30 days to see if they can be transferred or released.

The agency also agreed to allow children older than 12 to move freely about the facility, to provide a full-time pediatrician, to end a requirement that families stay in their cells 12 hours a day, and to offer field trips, toys, books and more nutritional food to children.

"The fact remains that our government should not be locking up innocent children -- period. That is not what America is about," said Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU of Texas.

ICE said in a statement that it "continues to improve Hutto," has implemented many settlement terms and welcomes periodic reviews by a U.S. magistrate judge.

"The Hutto facility is a safe and healthy environment for children and adults," the agency said, adding that it will continue to enforce immigration laws "in a humane and responsible manner."

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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