Our VoiceImmigrationNews & Politics

Music for Children Behind Bars

George Garza • Jul 09, 2009

A photograph of an empty playground behind barbed-wire fences says it all.

Upon first learning about the inhumane reality of imprisoned children less than two hours from San Antonio, most locals I’ve approached are left speechless. This comes as no surprise seeing as how some residents of Taylor (the small town 30 miles north of Austin, TX where this cage is located) are still clueless as to what is happening in their own backyard.

The increasingly infamous T. Don Hutto “Residential” Center is maintained by the private security company Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and is one of two facilities in the US (the other is in New Jersey) which “houses” immigrant families, including pregnant women, nursing infants, and children, as they await court hearings. These refugees come to our country seeking asylum, many escaping wars on their homeland, in hopes of a peaceful life. When they are detained, they become important profit cattle, earning the Corrections Corporation upwards of $200 a day per man, woman, and child.

Our tax dollars are funding this project which is run by a company whose experience is that of handling adult prisoners in jails around the US. The intended justification is that the compound is designed to keep these family units together; a hard pill to swallow given the thought of a child being raised in a former medium-security prison.


I myself have only been aware of this problem since July of 2008, when Local 782 was approached for support by members of the politically conscious band Karma, 10-year San Antonio music scene veterans. My brothers-in-arms have continued to play a large role in organizing the musician front at Hutto since they teamed up with Antonio Diaz, co-founder of Texas Indigenous Council, last May.

Attesting to music’s incomparable uniting power, the bands involved have channeled energy through sound and expanded social awareness on the private for-profit prison. On their latest journey to “America’s Family Prison” the caravan made a two day trip, stopping in Austin on June 19th for an event at Twin Palms Bar that featured Dj’s, live music from Karma and others, and documentaries chronicling the movement to close Hutto. A vigil was held outside the Hutto facility the following afternoon, Saturday, June 20th, coinciding with a global observation of World Refugee Day.

In a state where rights to march city streets for free have already been stripped, ‘No Man’s Land’ has proved a saving grace for protesters outside Hutto. ‘No Man’s Land’ refers to the plot of earth parallel to train tracks on the northern side of the detention facility that does not fall under any government jurisdiction; a favorable circumstance that provides participants with the assurance that their efforts cannot be shut down legally.

Calling for Hutto to be closed permanently has been a grassroots focus for years now, back to when the center first opened at the beginning of 2007. According to Antonio Diaz, however, the root of this horror is a direct result of an executive order by former President Bush to end the “Catch and Release” program. Diaz maintains that the only solution is for President Obama to, “…reintroduce the ‘Catch and Release’ program into legislation.” Though it would be a great victory to wipe the stain of Hutto from our state, he doesn’t see that as putting an end to profiteering as it would not likely stop another private prison from being erected elsewhere, thus continuing an economically wasteful BUSINESS cycle. Quite the opposite, the re-institution of C&R would prove cheaper for tax payers, and, pending a court date, immigrants would have a chance of securing a temporary work visa, stimulating the economy and potentially providing educational opportunities for immigrant children and adults alike.

They might even become valued citizens one day.

Fortunately, We the People have not forgotten how to rally, even in the face of 100+ degree weather. Progress has been made through the motivated action of all who exercise their right to peaceably assemble and voice their passionate concern. The right amount of empowered citizens, a flatbed trailer, a few amps, and a power generator help wake up the neighbors in Taylor whenever a vigil is held to remind those kids that the outside world is full of people who have not abandoned them. The attention these rallies have attracted has compelled the US Department of Homeland Security to review and improve Huttos practices and living conditions.

TIC plans to head out to ‘No Man’s Land’ once again on August 22nd.

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