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 email, 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.
Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was first published in Counterpunch.