The Least of These

Who is detained at Hutto?

Who is detained at Hutto?

[Today, Hutto houses only adult females.  The description below applies to the policies in place prior to August 2009.]

ICE generally returns undocumented Mexican citizens to Mexico immediately after they are apprehended. The Hutto facility detains only immigrant families classified by ICE as “Other Than Mexican,” the majority of whom are from Central America, but also including immigrants from Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, South America, and Canada. At any one time, there are typically about thirty countries represented by the detainees at Hutto. The facility has the capacity for about 500 detainees, including men, women, and children.

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Many of the detainees at Hutto are asylum seekers, signaling a historic shift in how the United States treats families and children fleeing persecution or torture in their home countries. Hutto is a central component of both the Department of Homeland Security’s Endgame, announced in 2003—which is 10-year strategic plan for the “removal of all removable aliens”—and for its Secure Border Initiative, announced in 2005—which is an aggressive plan for escalating border security and reducing illegal immigration. This latter initiative called for increased detention capacity and an increased use of “expedited removal.” A 2005 study by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found jail-like facilities, like Hutto, to be “inappropriate for non-criminal asylum seekers,” and it found that the expanded use of expedited removal increased the likelihood that legitimate asylum seekers would be denied asylum and returned to a country where they may face persecution or torture.

From Argentina to Zimbabwe, many families around the world face violence, persecution or deprivation in their home countries. Whether fearing for their lives or seeking out a better life, parents often take their children with them when they flee their countries and migrate to the United States.

In some cases, a child has one parent who is an American citizen or a legal resident and the other parent is applying for residency, seeking asylum or involved in some other pending immigration case. When the Department of Homeland Security began detaining children in these types of immigration situations, the children would often be abruptly removed from their American communities and schools, where they had already established their lives, and sent off to Hutto.

Historically, the United States has been a safe haven for asylum-seekers who face persecution in their home countries. A number of the children and their parents who are detained at Hutto have been interviewed by trained asylum officers, found to have a credible fear of persecution (which is the first step toward being granted asylum), and yet are still detained at Hutto (see the ACLU’s profiles of several of their Hutto detainee clients).