GLOBALIZED GULAG: PALESTINIAN REFUGEES AND CHILDREN HELD AT HUTTO JAIL
By Greg Moses
December 19, 2006
Some of the children and a pregnant woman being held in an immigration jail in Texas are Palestinian refugees whose families came to the USA with visas, says a Dallas lawyer.
Immigration attorney John Wheat Gibson represents two families that include a pregnant woman and children ages 2, 3, 5, 12, 14, and 17. The families have been incarcerated since their midnight arrests in early November by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
"The children, imprisoned with their mothers, have never been accused of any wrongdoing. Neither have their mothers," says Gibson. "All are Palestinian refugees who entered the U.S. legally, but have been denied asylum."
The fathers were separated from their families, the two-year-old was placed into foster care, and the remaining women and children were sent to the privatized Hutto jail in Taylor, Texas. The education of the school-aged children has been interrupted.
In an affidavit supplied by Gibson, one of the fathers, Adel Said Suleiman, says that he was identified as a refugee by the United Nations before coming to the USA in 1995. He claims that his immigration status has been mishandled by others, but that he has never been accused of any crimes or wrongdoings.
Suleiman's wife, Asma Quddoura, is in the Hutto jail with their son, Ayman, a 17-year-old senior at Arlington's James Bowie High School. Attorney Gibson, who now represents Suleiman, says his client was not provided with due notice of a deportation order.
Suleiman, a diabetic, sits in a chilly cell at the Garvin County Jail, Oklahoma, where the stink from an overflowing toilet "is horrible."
"There is another diabetic, here, too," says the Suleiman affidavit. "The guards bring us evening medication late, after supper, although it should be taken with food. The food served here is dangerous to diabetics, because it is sweet. I asked them to leave the sugar out of my oatmeal, but they refused. I take medication in the morning and because I cannot take it with food my blood sugar is very low."
The second father, Salaheddin Ibrahim, was also separated from his family, including his pregnant wife, Hanan Ahmad. Four of the Ibrahim children -- Hamzeh, 14; Rodaina, 12; Maryam, 5; and Faten, 3 -- are incarcerated with their mother. A two-year-old daughter was placed in foster care. Ibrahim was sent to another Texas jail in Haskell.
At one point, says Gibson, Amad's children "became hysterical when guards wrapped her in wrist and leg chains to take her to the hospital."
“Compare the treatment of the Colombian wife of Georgia State Senator Curt B. Thompson last week,” Gibson said.
“She also was under a final order of deportation, but the DHS did not detain her, even though, unlike my clients, she had been hiding from them since November 28, according to Brenda Goodman, writing in the New York Times, December 6.”
The privatized Hutto jail was the focus of a walk and vigil last week by Texas activists protesting the incarceration of immigrants and their children.
"Innocent children should not be jailed and forced to live under traumatizing and dehumanizing conditions," said a statement from vigil organizers, Texans United for Families. "It is bad policy and an impractical and inhumane response to a growing refugee crisis. The U.S. should seek alternatives to detention while making sure that it legislates policies that support families and keep them together and out of jail."
Jay Johnson-Castro, a South Texas businessman who earned recognition for his walk protesting the planned border wall, also walked from the nearby Texas Capitol to join the vigil. In a follow-up e-mail, Johnson-Castro encouraged more activism:
"Get access into these so called 'detention centers' which are little more than prison camps that exploit desperate people only to make obscene profits."
The Hutto jail is named after T. Don Hutto, co-founder of Correctional Corporation of America (CCA), the jail's corporate proprietor. In 2004, CCA announced that the jail would be closed for lack of occupancy, but the site was revived as a result of new immigration enforcement policies.
"Although the [Hutto jail] contract does not provide for a guaranteed occupancy," said a December 2005 release from CCA, "the Company expects the facility to be substantially occupied before the end of the second quarter of 2006." Activists say the jail detains 400 immigrants, half of them children.
"We believe this contract represents an important step in this ongoing initiative being undertaken by ICE," stated John Ferguson, president and chief executive officer of CCA, shortly before Christmas last year.
AFFIDAVIT OF ADEL SAID SULEIMAN
Texas Civil Rights Review
December 18, 2006
[Sent via email by attorney John Wheat Gibson of Dallas]
I am Adel Suleiman, a plaintiff in this lawsuit. I am older than 18 years, never have committed or been convicted of a crime, and understand the obligation of an oath. I swear on pain of perjury that the following statement is the truth of my personal knowledge:
I was recognized as a refugee by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and issued a registration card in December 1994. I brought my family to the United States on May 28, 1995. When my mother died in Jordan about three months after we came to the United States, I was afraid to go back for her funeral, because of the abuse and torture I already had suffered from the Jordanian police and intelligence agencies.
In February 1997 a notary public named Majed A[*name removed from posting by editor--gm] in Dallas, Texas filed an application for asylum in the United States on my behalf. I believed that A[*] was a lawyer, because he told me he was a lawyer. I hired him in November 1995 to represent me in the asylum application.
I was interviewed in March 1997 by Geraldine Collins at the Immigration and Naturalization Service Houston Asylum office. She recommended approval of my application for asylum, but a supervisor overruled her because it was policy of that office to refuse all asylum applications by Palestinians.
On August 13, 1999, an immigration judge heard the trial on the merits of my asylum application. Without my prior consent, Abdeljaber sent an attorney named Don P[*] to represent me. P[*] had never previously discussed my case with me, and knew almost nothing about it. The immigration judge denied my application.
A[*] filed a notice of appeal from the denial with the Board of Immigration Appeals and, without my knowledge, hired an attorney named Terry G[*] to prepare and file the appeal brief. To this day I never have met Mr. G[*]. On June 3, 2002, the BIA dismissed the appeal, saying in its decision that the appeal brief had addressed none of the issues raised in the notice of appeal.
In the meantime, I continued trying to support my family, and my wife and I bought a home in Arlington, Texas. Our son Ayman, who is a senior at James Bowie High School, in Arlington, Texas, has spent most of his life in Texas. I have always kept the immigration authorities apprised of my current residential address. No member of our family has been accused of any wrongdoing. We have tried to comply with the immigration laws, and therefore have carefully followed the advice of our attorneys, including A[*], whom we believed to be an attorney, ever since our arrival in 1995.
No member of our family ever was served with a warrant of deportation or otherwise received notice to report for removal from the United States. If we had received such an order, we would have arranged, through our lawyer, to depart at our own expense.
Instead, my wife and son and I all were arrested in a midnight raid on our home on about November 3, 2006. All of us, including my son, who belongs in high school, have been held in prison ever since that raid. My wife is being held in the same prison as our son.
I was separated from my family and detained at Rolling Plains prison, in Haskell, Texas. Our attorney has filed with the Board of Immigration Appeals and with the Department of Homeland Security formal petitions to stop our deportation until the BIA can make a decision on my request that it reopen my case.
On or about December 8, 2006, I was moved to the Garvin County Jail, run by the Garvin County Sheriff’s Office, 201 West Grand, Room A4, Pauls Valley, Oklahoma 73075. At the Garvin County Jail, I was put into a hall containing four cells. Each cell is 8 feet by eight feet in area, and has four beds in it. I still am confined there.
In the cell where I am confined, there is a toilet in the middle of the cell, and no privacy. The toilet constantly floods, and the stink is horrible. The hall is locked all the time. There are 25 prisoners in the four cells with 16 beds. It is extremely cold in the cell, but the guards ignore our complaints. Each prisoner is given one extremely light blanket. There are no pillows.
Each prisoner is given one black and white jail uniform and nothing else to wear. It is old and ragged, does not fit, and does not keep out the cold. When the laundry is done, the prisoners must stay naked in the cold cell. It takes at least four hours for the jail uniform to be returned, and sometimes the prisoners must wait naked all night.
There also are mattresses on the floor for five other prisoners. The hall is locked all the time, and the prisoners, including myself, are not taken out for exercise. There is one shower in the hall for all 25 prisoners. There is no privacy. The water from the shower runs onto the floor where people are sleeping.
The light in the prison is too dark to read by. The prisoners are locked into the crowded hall for 24 hours a day, and never allowed to leave it. There is no provision for exercise and too little room in the hall for it.
There is no nurse and people who need medication are denied it if they did not bring it with them from their homes when they were arrested. There are three other prisoners who require blood pressure medicine. I am diabetic and I have to take medication twice every day, but I have only enough for two or three more days.
There is another diabetic, here, too. The guards bring us evening medication late, after supper, although it should be taken with food. The food served here is dangerous to diabetics, because it is sweet. I asked them to leave the sugar out of my oatmeal, but they refused. I take medication in the morning and because I cannot take it with food my blood sugar is very low.
If somebody is ill no nurse or doctor sees them. There now are three prisoners with fever, but the jailers give them only Tylenol. There is no library, and we prisoners are not allowed to have the property we brought from Haskell. Some of the prisoners need to look up their lawyers’ telephone numbers in papers they brought but the jailers will not allow them to see them, although they have complained many times.
There is only one telephone, and all calls have to be collect. There is a commissary cart only every two weeks, so the prisoners cannot even buy wholesome food at their own expense. There is no representative of the federal government here. All the 25 people where I am detained are being held for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some of the immigration detainees also are held with the criminal population.
It was my intention to sign this affidavit but on or about December 15, the guards savagely beat three of the immigration prisoners here. They refused to give me any food and are withholding my diabetes medicine. I am afraid that if this affidavit arrives for my signature, they will retaliate against me. Therefore I asked my lawyer not to send it to me. I provided my lawyer with the information in this affidavit, however.
I swear that the above Affidavit of Adel Suleiman is a true statement of the information he told me by telephone call from the Garvin County Jail, and the information he previously provide me in the course of preparing for actions in the Texas courts against Majed Abdeljaber and before the Board of Immigration Appeals and the courts of the United States.
PROTESTERS TARGET T. DON HUTTO CENTER
By Daniel K. Lai
** Immigration facility site of protest Saturday **
Taylor (Texas) Daily Press
December 19, 2006
[PHOTO CAPTION: PRISON PROTEST: Roughly 130 people gathered at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center Saturday to protest the detention of illegal immigrants and their families. Protesters said the facility detains 200 children in a prison-like atmosphere.]
Following a 35-mile, three-day trek from the state capitol in Austin to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, roughly 130 protesters gathered Saturday to speak out against detaining illegal immigrants in the United States.
The protest was led by the grassroots organization Texans United for Families. The group targeted the Taylor facility because it is one of only two detention centers in the nation that houses families, including children.
“We must move towards a more comprehensive immigration policy that does not include jailing children,” Luissana Santibanez, a student at the University of Texas in Austin, said. “Housing families in for-profit prisons not only calls to question our moral values and our respect for human rights but it is also a waste of taxpayer money.”
Santibanez's mother is currently detained in a prison in Houston run by Corrections Corporation of America, which also operates the Taylor facility.
The residential center, which reopened earlier this summer, can house up to 512 illegal immigrants awaiting immigration or asylum hearings.
Jay Johnson-Castro of Del Rio, who gained attention in October for his 200-mile walk from Laredo to Brownsville to protest building a U.S.-Mexico border fence, said although the Taylor facility is called a residential center it is more like a gulag or concentration camp.
“The world needs to know, the state needs to know and Taylor needs to know what is going on here,” he said. “I don't think a lot of people in Taylor even know about this place. It's a gulag right here in America. We go around promoting freedom and democracy all over the world and look what we're doing to our neighbors in the south.”
Johnson-Castro said that before the government's new policy of detaining all unauthorized immigrants was implemented in August, families who were caught trying to pass through a port of entry without authorization were charged, told to appear in court and released on humanitarian parole.
“The government ended the practice, known as ‘catch and release,' because it said the great majority of non-Mexicans were not showing up for their court hearings,” he said. “Instead, the far right under (President) George Bush, (Homeland Security Security) Michael Chertoff and (former Secretary of Defense) Donald Rumsfeld want to detain children and by doing so have cut a deal with the devil to make a profit.”
According to Johnson-Castro, children in the detention center have to wear jail uniforms when they are big enough to fit in them.
He said children receive one hour of English instruction and one hour of recreation per day, usually indoors.
“. . . Other than that, they spend 22 hours locked up in a cell with their mothers,” he said. “We need to treat Latin Americans as friends and neighbors and not as terrorists and threats to homeland security. The hard right has tried to superimpose the term terrorist on immigrants and in the process have exploited the plight of these people.”
Jose Orta, founding member of the Taylor League of United Latin American Citizens Council, said the organization has launched an ongoing lobbying effort for immigration reform.
“LULAC acknowledges that our immigration system is broken. We have lobbied and continue to work toward comprehensive immigration reform,” he said, “immigration reforms that take into account national security, our economy and especially humanitarian needs. We believe that our nation should legislate policies that support families and keep them together.
“We need to treat all people with compassion and dignity and not as criminals. After all, we are a nation of immigrants, let us not forget this,” he said.
Rebecca Bernhardt, the Immigration, Border and National Security Policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said as a mother the plight of the detainees appeals to her greatly.
“It horrifies me as a mother to think of what it's like to not be able to watch your kids play outside when they want to or not watch your kids go to school and learn,” she said. “Not only is this a grave human rights violation it is also an incredible waste of taxpayer resources. There are alternative, cheaper ways of handling immigration that have been proven to work just fine as far as getting people to their court hearing.”
Requests for comment directed to officials at T. Don Hutto Residential Center were referred to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in San Antonio, which did not return calls by press time.