Jailing Toddlers in Texas

| Tue May 15, 2007 2:32 PM EDT

Close readers of MotherJones.com know that a year ago the government began incarcerating small children for months at a time in a converted Texas prison. The T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center, near Austin, holds roughly 200 kids and their families on immigration charges. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun jailing increasing numbers of kids since August, when it ended its controversial "catch and release" program for families with children who are apprehended on immigration charges.

After the story appeared in the Austin Chronicle and Mother Jones, it hit the New York Times and other major newspapers, and continues to garner headlines. A United Nations human rights official had been scheduled to tour T. Don Hutto last week, but ICE canceled the visit at the last minute because of a pending lawsuit over conditions there by the American Civil Liberties Union, a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, a resolution introduced in the Texas legislature would call on the federal government to seek alternatives to family detention. A coalition of activists, Free the Children, has been holding rallies in support of the bill.

Since our story was published, conditions at the prison have somewhat improved--kids no longer have to wear prison scrubs, and they now receive something akin to school lessons. Still, you'd think ICE would have gotten wise to the root of its ongoing PR crisis. Locking out journalists and human rights inspectors only feeds our worst fears: that this issue really is as black and white as what's implied by "free the children."