Don Hutto Vigil Report

Date Put forth on July 23, 2007 by XicanoPwr
Category Posted in activism, Concentration Camp, Human Rights, Hutto Vigil, ICE


We are able to identify changes in one’s own personal life by associating them to certain events that we either experienced or witnessed personally. We do this as a way to expand our sense of purpose and transcend our ordinary lives, consequently questioning and integrating beliefs and values with actions. This past weekend is one of those events. I’m speaking most directly to my recent visit to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, TX.

Williamson County’s Hutto Residential Center is a former high-security state prison that was converted into a detention center that is authorized to hold non-Mexican immigrant families and children on noncriminal charges. Its purpose is to hold immigrant families while their applications for asylum are being considered. It began operating in the summer of 2006 and currently holds 375 detainees, approximately 200 of which are children. Detainees are a diverse group, including single men with children, pregnant women, infants, and 17-year-old boys that house immigrant families.

It is widely reported that there are two facilities in the country that hold immigrant families and children on non-criminal charges in detention facilities. The other facility is the Berks Family Shelter Care Facility in Leesport, PA. Unlike Hutto, before Berks started detaining immigrants, the facility was a former nursing home. The site is supposed to be much more hospitable than the larger Texas facility, due to its sprawling dorm-like layout. Even though the facility may feel hospitable, this doesn’t suggest the conditions are better.

There is actually a third facility that also houses children; this unreported facility is located Aurora, CO. The Aurora ICE Processing Center is run and operated by the Geo Group (formerly the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation). According to Geo, the facility can currently hold up to “400 males, females, children (unsentenced).” The detainees being held in the Aurora Processing Center are the immigrants that have been picked up from Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Utah.

When Hutto opened last year, CCA told the public they were fixing up the place so it didn’t look like a prison and when I got there you can still tell this place looked like a former prison. From what I could see, the facility is surrounded on three sides by double-layered fencing. I wasn’t able to see the back, so I am assuming that is where the playground set is located. From what I read, there used to be several layers of razor wire between the two fences. You can tell what part of the building the prison cells are located, by the thin rectangular window frames; it is the same window design when Houston opened the new courthouse. If you were facing the building from the outside, their cells would be on your left. After a while, you would also notice that someone from CCA is regularly circling the building.

When the protest began, two CCA vans rushed to block the main entrance of the facility. It was a bit weird, since this is the 11th vigil; I would have to assume there might be some history as to when this practice began. Another thing you notice, behind us, there is roughly about a half-dozen freight trains blocking the detention center from public view. When I actually arrived to Taylor, I had a hard time trying to find the street where I was supposed to turn on to; I may have imagined this and overlooked this, but after driving a couple blocks, I suddenly noticed there were no street sign indicating the name of street. The first time around, I ended up going to the next town over, so I had to turn around and even then, I still could not find it. I literally stopped and asked for directions. One of the places I used to live was outside Chicago in the town of Crystal Lake, Taylor reminded me of Crystal Lake. At that time, it was considered rural area of IL, I here things are much different now; the city has doubled in size. The first thing I noticed as I drove around Taylor looking for Hutto, the town is also going through similar changes as Crystal Lake as the City of Austin continues to grow.

I had heard freight trains blocking were being used to block the view, they are not joking. The parked fright trains are used for a couple of reasons; blocking the public view is one of them. The other reason, it serves as a good sound barrier. The first thing I noticed going to Hutto, I had crossed four sets of tracks. As I a got closer to Hutto, the freight trains were parked next to each other on tracks closer to the site. The other set of tracks are still being used by both AMTRAK and regular freight. There is an AMTRAK station in Taylor and it is very close to Hutto. From the aerial picture taken from Google map, you are able to see the how the freight cars are lined up.

I really don’t know how many people showed up, and in all honesty, I really don’t think it really matters, the vibe was still great. I met a lot of great people over there. I even had the pleasure of meeting a fellow blogger. I even had an opportunity to meet 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. I also had a chance to talk to him one on one. We discussed about the border wall that the Department of Homeland Security is planning to put up in Laredo. I had a chance to be interviewed by Nick Calzoncit from the Public Access television show the Mexican-American Advancement Project, which airs on Fridays in San Antonio. As I introduced myself, there were people there who actually heard of me through my blog. I discussed grassroots organizing with members from the San Antonio Brown Berets. Other people I met that I can remember off the top of my head were from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Cesar Chavez Legacy and Education Foundation, and Code Pink. There are so many people I met, talked, and shared a laugh or two, so I left somebody out, I really do apologize.

A stage was set up across from the facility for live entertainment and event speakers. Every one who spoke was fantastic and very energetic; however, there was something special about particular speaker. After listening to this person, I was reminded what I’m here fighting for and what it was that motivated me to blog. There was something about this speaker that touched me in a much more positive way than the other speakers, this speaker reaffirmed the principles and values I hold dearly. Such a reaffirmation is important and timely for me personally, it reminded me how important it is to continue to be true to myself. It reaffirm one of my treasured moral value – not to sell myself out or pretend to be something I’m not just to gain popularity or to get on some mystical A-list blog spot. So what if my blog is read by throngs of devoted, admiring readers, or be considered as a possible invite to blog in some presidential debate or invite to be part some of a yearly blogger conference; the people who matter are the people who are out there in the street everyday fighting the good fight, people like Rebecca Ruiz-Lichter, Nick Calzoncit, Jay Johnson-Castro, Jose Orta, and all those put on those Hutto Vigils, month after month.

I do have to admit, yours truly and a fellow blogger raised a little hell towards the end of the protest. As the protest was dying down and the San Antonio group was getting ready to leave, I figured I would go talk to the people in the vehicle. As this person and I were getting closer, one of CCA’s stormtroopers did not appreciate us walking towards them. It was strange because during the protest, a couple of other people where right next to the van, however, were not allowed. The closer we got towards them, one of CCA’s stormtrooper jumped out of the van to confront us. They demanded that we get off their property. However, we continued walking, while at the same time, I keep asking them if I could ask a couple of questions. The stormtrooper would have none of that; then out of nowhere, the crowd was re-energized and they started chanting again.

Thinking backing, the whole day felt like one of those magical moments we have in our lives; the ones where everything flows easily and effortlessly, as if the world was in some sort of perfect harmony. It was one those times when we are full of life, at peace, and we know all is good. To be honest, I don’t know why I did it, but what I do know, it was something in my heart that said it was the right thing to do. Could I have been arrested, probably, but that wasn’t a concern. My concerns were for the human beings who are treated worse than dogs behind those walls, for the voiceless who are locked up in one America’s concentration camps. The men, women, and children who are psychologically traumatized everyday; the families who are forced to split up, the ones who are sexually assaulted.

Going to the rally was the best thing I ever did. I have to thank a close friend who made that day a memorable one. If this confrontation did get out of hand, it would have been an honor being arrested together. There was something magical about that day, maybe it was the people I met or the energetic atmosphere, whatever it was, it brought back the spark that I thought I lost in my life. I have come to realize it was never lost; it was just buried underneath the negative emotions seeping into our lives in the form of sadness, disgust, anger and fear.

Life can get so hectic and tiring. So many people giving up on being good. Social influences through the media are constantly pushing us to live someone else’s idea of being, leading us to sell ourselves out to the highest bidder, while leaving humanity to defend for itself. It’s hard to watch all of this unfold before us. I guess the one comfort is that there is always the spark of hope. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope that this chaos will end soon.

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5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. odd » A Happy Reunion For This Immigrant Family - By ¡Para Justicia y Libertad! Trackback on Jul 29th, 2007 at 11:03 pm
  2. even » Houston Processing Center: The U.S. Ministry of Freedom - By ¡Para Justicia y Libertad! Trackback on Aug 8th, 2007 at 2:56 pm
  3. odd » Privatized Prisons for Immigrants: The Expansion Continues - By ¡Para Justicia y Libertad! Trackback on May 25th, 2008 at 11:29 pm
  4. even Questions Questions Questions 2008: About Humane Immigration Reform « Problem Chylde Trackback on Jul 11th, 2008 at 2:35 pm
  5. odd Civil Rights Attorney: Wilco liable for CCA/Hutto violations | Civil Litigation Attorney Trackback on May 30th, 2010 at 1:49 pm

16 Comments

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  1. Gravatar Icon Cero Jul 24th, 2007 at 12:36 am

    Glad you got to go! Side note: I’ve seen Wackenhut (I guess now Geo) security guards in more than one country. Really freaky – global mercenary security.

  2. Gravatar Icon XicanoPwr Jul 24th, 2007 at 7:04 am

    I am glad I went too. It is something I really miss doing. The great thing about it, I end up meeting several people who actually also shared my views of certain issues. I am pretty sure the folks at Geo have a certain hiring criteria, something similar to Blackwater.

  3. Gravatar Icon luisa Jul 24th, 2007 at 11:36 am

    Sounds fun. I hear there is another vigil on Aug. 18th.

    “There is actually a third facility that also houses children; this unreported facility is located Aurora, CO.”

    I didn’t know that! Where did you read about it?

  4. Gravatar Icon fiercelyfab Jul 24th, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    Very moving. Thanks for sharing your experiences with the rest of us, that read about the tragedies behind these human rights violations. Highlighting the strenght of the human spirit and resistance deserves as much attention, like this powerful moment you shared with others. Esperanza is more than survival it is not being dead while living, pa delante siempre.

  5. Gravatar Icon XicanoPwr Jul 24th, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    luisa, You are right about that one, if I remember correctly, I hear thereit is also suppose to be a march before the vigil.

    I found the Aurora facility be accident really. I was trying to compile an extensive list all of the all the immigration concentration camps. When I clicked on Geo list, that is where I found it.

  6. Gravatar Icon XicanoPwr Jul 24th, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    fiercelyfab – thank you!!! I was speaking from the heart, how I felt and I really wanted to share this with everybody.

  7. Gravatar Icon brownfemipower Jul 24th, 2007 at 10:03 pm

    the people who matter are the people who are out in the street everyday fighting the good fight

    and don’t forget yourself there, hermano–like i said on my blog, you are the one that brought this to my attention, you are the one that won’t stop blogging about this, that does all the amazing research and puts all that research into a blog post that those of us who read you care about. YOu have made so many people aware of this who normally wouldn’t know, who normally wouldn’t hear any of this because there is no access to media that covers those pesky brown folks.

    YOu are a fighter too, i hope you know that.

  8. Gravatar Icon El Gato Jul 25th, 2007 at 9:58 am

    “My concerns were human beings who are not just behind those walls but every voiceless person who are locked up in America’s concentration camps.”

    Uh, me duele leer tantas cosas increibles!

    This just burns me up! Before 1846 and the Anglo invasions of the Mexican War, our people, our fathers and mothers and children, and the livestock from our villages, all freely moved north and south of this faux “border” that bisects and dismembers our ancestral land like this. It was for obvious reasons– with seasonal changes and the variations of the local climate, such migration was natural and essential for our well-being, and still is!

    De hecho, no cruzamos la frontera, la frontera nos cruzo!

    After the Mexican War and all the Anglo imperialism since then, our people are confined like animals in these camps, families split up due to this imagined “border.” Makes me sick. Certainly, at the very least in states like California, Arizona, New Mexico, Tejas and the south of Florida, where we’ve historically had a presence, they have no right to be so heavy-handed to us.

    Every now and then in Arizona, when I’m talkin’ en espanol with my homies, I run into some Minuteman blowhard who starts whining about how I’m not “assimilating” to American culture. I then tell them, that I *am* assimilating– to the bilingual, multicultural fabric that Arizona as well as California, New Mexico, Texas and Florida have long had.

    Ever since the treaties concluding the Florida Wars, especially the Mexican War and the Anglo invasion, the protection and active use of Spanish in the public sphere by *all* people with public contact, not to mention respect para nuestros derechos, property and customs, has been enshrined by law in these regions.

    Therefore, these English-only Anglo imperialists are the ones who are failing to assimilate to the predominating, legally recognized bilingual and multicultural heart of the Southwest, not us. We won’t submit to them, these imperialists as they continue to try to impose themselves upon us.

    Y si se siguen imponerse sobre nosotros y nuestras familias, vamos a exigir que se siguen si mismos las leyes y tratados que protejen nuestros derechos, idioma y costumbres, desde la guerra estadounidense en 1848!

    I used to live in Pennsylvania, with most of my relatives nearby in Ohio and some scattered in Georgia, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Wisconsin– places where the anti-Latino bull is digested every day on talk radio. Now, thankfully, the vast majority of us have re-congregated in our historical homelands in California, New Mexico and Texas, where we’ll soon be a majority. There’s strength in numbers if we concentrate ourselves and in those states, we can stand up for ourselves. (Plus, there are much better jobs and vastly better weather.)

    Now more than any other time since the Mexican War in 1848, we’ve gotta stick together and stand up for each other.

    Si no lo hacemos nos mismos, no vamos a ganar los derechos que la ley nos otorga.

  9. Gravatar Icon annie from taylor Jul 25th, 2007 at 11:54 am

    You did an awesome job of writing about the experience. I hope it encourages more people to come out to our next one on Aug 18th, and yes we will be marching from the prison through town.

    I look forward to seeing you there again.
    annie

  10. Gravatar Icon XicanoPwr Jul 26th, 2007 at 6:50 am

    El Gato – you are correct, I can trace my family history which can be traced back to Mexico’s Independence. The Zapata County is named after Col. Antonio Zapata who I just recently found out is part of my mother’s lineage. I makes no sense as to why, I should be forced to forget people in my family history who were involved in historical events that involved Tejas and the US.

    El Gato, you are correct, we have to stand together. What I find very interesting, when people talk about previous immigrants who were once isolated by the dominate culture until they showed they to can part, well, we, the Native Americans and African Americans are still the only minority groups that still have not been accepted. We have been here since the founding of the US and we are still being excluded.

  11. Gravatar Icon XicanoPwr Jul 26th, 2007 at 6:57 am

    Thanks Annie – I knew I left somebody out. It was great to finally put a face with a name/handle. I plan to be there next month.

  12. Gravatar Icon gordo Jul 26th, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    I think it’s appalling that we would allow a private company to detain children who have not even been given the benefit of a hearing. Using private contractors for this sort of facility isn’t just a way of handing taxpayer dollars to a few influential millionaires– it’s also a way of insulating the government from their responsibility to protect the rights of these children.

    Our government isn’t perfect, but it’s still a lot more accountable to the people and responsive to public pressure than any private prison corporation. So any privatization of our prisons imperils the rights of the people detained. For me, this is especially troubling in this case because so many of the people being held haven’t committed any crimes.

  13. Gravatar Icon nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez Jul 30th, 2007 at 7:22 am

    yes, very energizing! i wanted to go to this. i’m glad you could report back.

    of course, all the people matter. the ones on the street and at vigils, and even the ones who dont blog or protest and are just trying to live their lives.

    way to rep it bro. i’m glad you caught a second breath.

  14. Gravatar Icon nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez Jul 30th, 2007 at 7:34 am

    There was something magical about that day, maybe it was the people I met or the energetic atmosphere, whatever it was, it brought back the spark that I thought I lost in my life. I have come to realize it was never lost; it was just buried underneath the negative emotions seeping into our lives in the form of sadness, disgust, anger and fear.

    i guess this is why i sometimes make the point of doing things in the 3D world. we type so much as if it is moving about adn going places, and not to say that blogging does not do a world of good; it can and does. but i think its true that every time someone goes out and meets up with others, they come back like this: energized. you at hutto, kai at his meeting of “angry asians,” BA at amc. i think blog society sometimes feels like a crowd jammed in a big room of noise and smoke. and we need to get out there and bump into people, move the frame around. it’s not just that its a place specifically, its that it is not virtual action, but actual action.

    that said, i really would like to bring my camera next time there is a vigil. maybe i can join you next time.

  15. Gravatar Icon XicanoPwr Jul 30th, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    I think one of our problems is that we haven’t found the right balance between how we can effectively utilize blogosphere and doing and stepping outside our own home and start reconnecting with each other. ‘Mano, people are becoming isolated and alone. Estrangement breeds loneliness and despair, the encounter with nothingness, cynicism, empty gestures of defiance.

    This is a problem that started a while ago and what we are seeing are the effects. When I was in grad school, I had a professor who actually was ringing the bells so to speak that one day all of this was going to happen. This was back in the 90s, and thinking back it is easy to scoff that the message. Sadly, we are living in a private world as opposed to a public world. I am not talking about those in the blogosphere, we as a society have become self-absorbed with the private and the personal. Look at the ads on TV, we bought into the idea of doing things in the comfort of our own homes. We are so individualized we have eroded our own civil society, which now we have cut all and any ties of mutual interdependence and reciprocal obligation.

    We are not public citizens any more we are private consumers. We talk about safety not in sense of community but which gated community we will live. These places are intentionally designed as limited access, they are closed places that are restricted to homogenous groups. We have become accustom to using underground tunnel system or walkways to go from building to another so we no longer have to be out in the streets.

    The blogosphere is just another extension of our privatized world. What we need to do is refocus on how we can be more effective in using the blogosphere, how we can get to a collective society. Instead of seeing blogs as places to read, it must be seen as the modern day tools of the town paper or pamphlets, the manifestos that motivated people to collective action.

    Hey that would be cool, the next one is on Aug 18, it is always a pleasure to get the chance to put a face to a blogger, especially one behind the bandanna!! :)

  16. Gravatar Icon Shannon Walters Mar 4th, 2008 at 8:21 am

    My brother-in-law, a documentarist in LA, read the New Yorker’s March 3 article and informed me of the Hutto facility last night via email. Being behind the curve, reading your blog and the subsequent responses has caught me up a little. It’s great that such large groups of people have shown up to protest the treatment of these families, but I’m not finding information on what help has been given to the families inside Hutto directly. I’m thinking of toys, school supplies, books, toiletries, and time just to visit and care for these people. Do the officials of the facility allow visitors not related to the families? Do they accept donations of the above-mentioned items? Fighting for these families through protest is a great start, and certainly calls attention to the situation. The American community is becoming more aware of the treatment suffered by these families, and those who run the facility are aware of the public outcry, but have the actual families been touched by love and care while they await change?

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