The T. Don Hutto Residential Center (formerly known as T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility) is a guarded, fenced-in, multi-purpose center currently used to detain non-US citizens awaiting the outcome of their immigration status. The center is located at 1001 Welch Street in the city of Taylor, Texas, within Williamson County. Formerly a medium-security state prison, it is operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) under contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (known as ICE) through an ICE Intergovernmental Service Agreement with Williamson County, Texas. It is named after T. Don Hutto, who along with Robert Crants and Tom Beasley, co-founded the CCA on January 28, 1983 in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2006 , Hutto became an immigrant-detention facility detaining immigrant families.
Immigration-detention had begun to increase after 9/11. In October 2005, Michael Chertoff, then Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (HUD), which runs the ICE, announced the end of catch-and-release immigration policy to reduce illegal immigration to the United States and the security threat posed by it. By the summer of 2006 the catch-and-release policy had ended. As a result, by the end of 2006, the number of people in government custody for immigration-law violations increased by 79% from 2005. There were about 14,000 people being detained.
By 2000, Tennessee-based CCA's stocks hit their lowest, as it suffered from "poor management", prison riots and escapes. It had failed in the 1990s in its "bid to take over the entire prison system of Tennessee." T. Don Hutto opened in May 2006. Previously, illegal immigrants with children would be released with a notice to appear before an immigration judge. In some cases, where release was not approved by ICe, children were separated from their parents. Parents were sent to an adult facility while children were released to family, or sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. A 2007 report entitled "Locking Up Family Values" by the Women's Refugee Commission and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services documented conditions in the facility. The detainees were women and their children - most of whom were under the age of 10. (see Locking Up Family Values.
Most of the residents were from Central and South America. However, there were also Africans, Asians, Europeans, and Middle Easterners. Most of the families held at the Hutto facility were awaiting adjudication of their claims for relief or asylum. Many of these families had been granted bond and are awaiting payment so that they can be released. The facility was also a staging area for families waiting to be deported to their home countries. None of the families held at the former prison are charged with offenses other than illegal entry.
Since the Hutto facility is privately run, it has been difficult for members of the general public to gather information. Friends, family members, and lawyers of detainees, on the other hand, are granted private visitation 7 days a week with no limit on the number of visits. Human rights groups are also a common sight at the facility. Catholic Charities and the Political Asylum Project of Austin conduct bi-weekly presentations for detainees regarding their legal rights and offer legal assistance as well. Also in the month of March and April 2008, American Civil Liberties Union as well as members of the League of United Latin American Citizens were granted extensive tours of the facility. Community volunteers from area places of worship visit weekly to conduct multiple religious services for detainees.
In 2007, the Women's Refugee Commission released a report, Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families, draws heavily on research conducted at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against ICE in March 2007 on behalf of 10 juvenile plaintiffs that were housed in the facility at the time claiming that the standards by which they were housed was not in compliance with the government's detention standards for this population. The claims were, amongst other things, improper educational opportunities, not enough privacy, and substandard health care. The relief being sought was the release of the plaintiffs. In August 2007, after the plaintiffs were no longer housed at the facility, the ACLU settled the lawsuit claiming that the situations at the facility had "significantly improved".
In 2007, Justice Sparks ruled in a landmark settlement that greatly improved conditions for immigrant children and their families who were being held in the Center. Dozens of children were released from the facility in Taylor, Texas with their families as a result of the litigation. In response to the harsh treatment of young children in T. Don Hutto, Judge Sparks established "the government would have to establish clear rules for how to detain families safely and humanely. And although officials at Hutto might be making changes now, he noted, didn’t Lawrence have a feeling it was merely because the defendants knew, on account of the lawsuit, that 'the hammer was coming down?" He said that he was beginning to wonder who was in charge "out there, either C.C.A. or the government. It’s very troubling to me."
The Least of These is a documentary based on the lawsuit and sub-par conditions.
"[A]fter years of controversy, media exposure, and a lawsuit", in 2009, the Obama Administration closed T. Don Hutto Family Detention Facility, the United States’ "largest family immigration detention facility." "Conditions at the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Facility, and the impact of detention on families and children, proved that family detention could not be carried out humanely." On August 6, 2009, federal officials announced that T. Don Hutto would no longer house immigrant families. Instead, only female detainees will be housed there. In September 2009, the last families left the facility and were moved to the much smaller Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania.