The Least of These


The Austin Chronicle

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…This quiet and measured documentary about the history of Hutto doesn’t paint ICE or management firm Corrections Corporation of America as the bad guys. Instead, it shows them as victims of their own political and commercial hubris and highlights the bleak comedy of their attempts to justify a bad idea. But as the interviews with traumatized kids, parents disabused of the American dream, and the lawyers that fight for them show, it doesn’t matter how many Disney murals you paint on the walls – a prison is a prison.  — Richard Whitaker

Mark Steiner, The Mark Steiner Show, WEAA, Baltimore

Powerful and moving… a film about a fight for social justice that forced change…

I watched the film with my 11-year old.  She wouldn’t go to bed.  She was stuck on this movie because she was watching people her age being imprisoned with their families.  And she was stunned by what she saw….

(Mark’s interview with producer/director team HERE)

Culture Capital (Washington DC)

…The Least of These is essential viewing for anyone concerned about the innocent bystanders caught in the Department of Homeland Security’s massive, often arbitrary net.

The Economist

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The Associated Press reported yesterday that according to a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement database, there were 32,000 detainees in custody in January, about 19,000 of whom have no criminal convictions and some of whom have been there for more than a year. The idea is that detainment helps ensure compliance with court hearings, but the problem is that detainees aren’t guaranteed lawyers, or speedy hearings, so you have people, including children, being held in a quasi-prison-ish environment. In some cases, they are actually being held in converted prisons. That is the case at the Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas. The centre opened in 2006, and in 2007 the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic sued the government for housing children in substandard conditions. “The Least of These”, a documentary about Hutto and some of the families detained there, premiered at SXSW this year.

The lawsuit yielded a settlement which entailed numerous reforms and improvements at Hutto—commendable work by the ACLU and the Immigration Law Clinic (and the protestors who helped call media attention to Hutto). A quibble: I would say it muddies the picture when all the world’s problems are attributed to Republican malfeasance. The film opens with a clip of George Bush, and cuts to Ann Coulter and Pat Buchanan, which in this case seems to be shorthand for “what you are about to see will arouse your righteous liberal ire.”

A reporter once asked the late Tony Snow, who was White House press secretary at the time, whether the detainees couldn’t be held in some other sort of facility. “Such as?” he responded. “A sports stadium?” He was right: the government hasn’t figured out the way to house families, whether they’re detained immigrants or hurricane victims. The film suggests a couple of alternatives for immigrants, such as releasing them and requiring them to check in with a sort of parole officer. That would cost the state much less, but then it’s not clear how easily a poor immigrant with young children and no legal standing can find a safe and affordable place to live while awaiting the hearing. The entire film can be viewed online and is worth watching as the issue of detainee treatment is obviously ongoing.

3/12/09 AP article, appearing in many outlets nation-wide:

Documentary focuses on family detention center

ANABELLE GARAY  / Associated Press
A documentary chronicling the case of immigrant children held at a former prison with their families premieres next week at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin.

“The Least of These” follows the 2007 lawsuit that led to changes at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center, a Central Texas facility advocates contended inhumanely housed adults and children. It also focuses on four families who were detained at Hutto, including the Yourdkhanis, an Iranian couple who had been trying to reach Canada with their Canadian-born son.

“In the case of these four families, they all have very compelling and moving reasons to be in the country. They are all seeking asylum,” Marcy Garriott, one of the film’s producers, said Thursday.

Many of the Hutto detainees told of guards disciplining children by threatening to separate them from their parents, scant medical care and school days that lasted a few hours. Children were housed in tiny cells furnished by bunkbeds and a toilet. Concertina wire used to line the outside of the site.

In March 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, the University of Texas Law School Immigration Clinic and the law firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae filed lawsuits on behalf of 26 children held at Hutto. They reached a settlement with the federal government that called for a softer environment and improved conditions at Hutto.

The settlement also ordered more oversight of the facility. Michelle Brane, one of the advocates featured in the film and director of the Women’s Refugee Commission’s Detention and Asylum Program, plans to return to Hutto on Tuesday to review the changes.

“The Least of These” is co-directed by Clark Lyda and Jesse Lyda, both of whom also produced the film with Garriott, an Austin documentary filmmaker. It premieres Monday at SXSW and can be viewed for free online after premiering. Follow-up screenings are set for Wednesday and Friday at SXSW and later in the year at New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.

“Our goal is really to raise awareness,” Garriott said. “Our goal is not to convince people of one opinion or another … it’s whether this makes sense as a solution for keeping track of families.”

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To the list of bizarre, wasteful and cruel failures of the Department of Homeland Security under the Bush Administration, add this program to imprison children. The Least of These follows the Kafkaesque situation of illegal immigrant families in Texas beginning in 2006 when the government switched from a “catch and release” approach to undocumented immigrants to incarcerating them. Some of the detainees in the film are Iranian-descended Canadian citizens, others are Central American, and most are seeking political asylum on grounds outlined and accepted by the U.S. government. Outside Austin, in Taylor, Texas, the Don T. Hutto facility followed a prison model to detain families with young children. Hutto forced mothers to feed multiple children in a 15-minute meal time before returning to their cells, and placed family groups into tiny cells with an unshielded toilet in the corner. The ACLU sued on behalf of the families, claiming the contractor had never complied with applicable Federal law governing detention of children. (Justifications provided by FOX talking head Bill O’Reilly and then White House spokesman Tony Snow are too pathetic to be funny.) Regardless of the merits of criminalizing illegal immigration, it’s hard to understand the disregard for the human rights of detained children. This film asks to what extent Uncle Sam will punish kids for the sins of their parents, even if that sin is wanting to be an American… — Will Coviello

Cinematical (Highlights of SXSW 2009), Slackerwood &

…The Least of These is a documentary about the Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, where immigrant families are detained while they seek asylum or await judgment on immigration cases. The families’ stories are often sad, but I like the way the movie shows how persistent activism actions can lead to positive change…

..A compelling film that I’d really recommend watching.  – Jette Kernion

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4stars “A society can be judged by how it treats the least of its members.”  – Jay Seever

Williamson County Sun Editorial (3/22/09)

[Williamson County houses the T. Don Hutto facility, and can continue to operate there only with the approval of the Williamson County Commissioner’s Court.]

It is a complex story and Lyda and his team tell in a straightforward narrative that holds one’s interest at a high pitch throughout.  Excellent work, well worth seeing for anyone with an iota of interest in federal immigration policy and its on-the-ground ramifications.

This was not a “gotcha” documentary, a la Michael Moore.  It is an intelligent, thoughtful, and lawyerlike piece of work…   – Linda Scarbrough (publisher)

Washington City Paper (Washington DC)

Recommended …Testimonials from immigrant advocates are cut with interviews of formerly detained families and segments from Fox News, in which Bill O’Reilly and former Department of Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff assure each other that incarcerating entire families is all part of preserving the American Dream.

Folio Weekly (Jacksonville FL)

The scar at the corner of Denia’s mouth is from her husband. It marks the spot where he sliced her with a machete while threatening to cut her head off. Denia fled Honduras after this encounter with her abusive husband, taking her two baby girls and the child in her belly. But she wasn’t able to save her eldest daughter. Denia hasn’t seen the 12 year-old girl since that night, when her machete-wielding husband stole her away.

Denia came to America to escape, and to offer her children sanctuary from the constant and escalating violence in her marriage. But the refuge she found was in prison — the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, a medium-security prison transformed into a family detention center. Along with several hundred other undocumented immigrants — many seeking asylum from violence in their home country — Denia was sent with her children to live behind the razor wire in the vast, inhospitable jail.

The story of the Hutto families is the subject of “The Least of These,” a documentary by directors Clark and Jesse Lyda. Using interviews with detainees, attorneys and members of advocacy groups, the film offers a wrenching look at the lives of those held at Hutto and the legal battle ultimately waged in their name.

The film premiered in March at the South By Southwest Film Festival and is currently making the rounds of film festivals nationwide, to much acclaim.

The story may be recognizable to some.  Hutto detainees were the subject of a fair amount of press in the months after the facility opened in 2006, including a devastating 2008 piece by New Yorker reporter Margaret Talbot. But the subject’s familiarity doesn’t detract from the power of the documentary. This is not a film that requires much in the way of persuasion; just about anyone who views the outline can see the injustice of putting children behind bars…


Center for American Progress:

link to Reel Progress 5-minute video about the film and family detention

link to video of panel discussion following the Reel Progress screening of “The Least of These“, moderated by VP for Immigration Angie Kelley

The Nation:

link to article

Interview with the directors, on

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“U.S. should should stop locking up immigrant kids” by Fr. John S. Rausch:

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“Locking up immigrants, and children, is a boon for private corporations that run prisons. People of faith should demand that kids be sent to families or foster care instead of prison for immigration offenses.”

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