Monday, February 26, 2007

Action Alert: Help a Canadian Boy in US Detention

The following is from catnip's blog:
The Situation: As the result of an unforeseen set of circumstances, a 9 year old Canadian boy and his Iranian parents are being held at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas. The living conditions at the facility resemble those of a prison yet those detained there have no criminal records and are simply asylum seekers. The American Civil Liberties Union is considering a lawsuit for possible human rights violations and several humanitarian groups have been protesting the facility's conditions since it opened in 2006.

The Women's Commission For Refugee Women and Children recently released its report (.pdf file) on the conditions at the Hutto facility. Here is a summary of some of their findings:

• Hutto is a former criminal facility that still looks and feels like a prison, complete with razor wire and prison cells.
• Some families with young children have been detained in these facilities for up to two years.
• The majority of children detained in these facilities appeared to be under the age of 12.
• At night, children as young as six were separated from their parents.
• Separation and threats of separation were used as disciplinary tools.
• People in detention displayed widespread and obvious psychological trauma. Every woman we spoke with in a private setting cried.
• At Hutto pregnant women received inadequate prenatal care.
• Children detained at Hutto received one hour of schooling per day.
• Families in Hutto received no more than twenty minutes to go through the cafeteria line and feed their children and themselves. Children were frequently sick from the food and losing weight.
• Families in Hutto received extremely limited indoor and outdoor recreation time and children did not have any soft toys.
Background: The details surrounding how this particular family ended up in the Hutto detention ceneter are as follows, in the words of the father (using the pseudonym Majid), in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! on Friday, February 23, 2007. Goodman also spoke to the child, "Kevin".
AMY GOODMAN: Now, just to be clear, you were never planning to end up in the United States, is that right? You were flying to Canada, but another passenger on the plane had a heart attack, and so you guys had a forced landing in Puerto Rico, and when you had to come out of the plane, while he was taken off the plane, that's when they took you?

MAJID: Yes. This happened, yes -- was a Canadian Zoom Airline, and our ticket was direct from Guyana to Toronto. And this happened. They hold us -- my son is Canadian -- hold child is nine-and-a-half years old, and they put us in detention in Puerto Rico. And from Monday to Friday, I was in the jail in Puerto Rico between criminal people, and my wife and son was other place. We had no news from each other from Monday morning until Friday at noon, until we see each other in a Puerto Rico airport. After that, they brought us here to Hutto Detention Center, and here we are in same part, but different room. My wife and my son is room, but it’s totally inside the room, uncovered toilet. My son has asthma, and he’s very bad and still comes here. It’s very horrible here. And we are in very bad situation. We need help. We need the people help me --

JUAN GONZALEZ: Majid, in other words, basically, what reason did they give you for holding you if you never intended to enter the United States at all? What reason did they give for locking you up?

MAJID: Because they said, “You have an American visa?” That's why you have to stay here. Just plane was waiting one hour for us, but they didn't let us pass. A few officers came. They said Immigration officers -- six, seven -- they said, “We’re going to send you, but let us make decision.” After that, they called the police chief. He came there. He said, “Let me think five minutes.” After five minutes, he came, he said, “I’m going to send you to Canada, but I’m afraid to lose my job. But usually we have to send with your plane, but we keep you here. America is much better than Canada. Here you have safer place. We send you to hotel, and after a few days, you're going to be free.” But they broke their promise. That's why they keep us here, and we have very bad situation here.
According to this Toronto Star article, this is why the family fled from Iran:
The parents, who have no status in Canada, asked that their names not be published out of fear of eventually being returned to Iran, where they say they were previously imprisoned and suffered physical and sexual abuse.

The family's complicated journey began after the couple fled Iran and arrived in Toronto in January 1995. They lived here for 10 years while seeking asylum, giving birth to a son. But on Dec. 6, 2005, with all legal avenues exhausted, the parents were deported back to Iran.

The boy's father claimed he had been originally persecuted in Iran after he was discovered with novelist Salman Rushdie's book. Once they were sent back there from Canada, they were detained and tortured for three months while the boy lived with relatives. Once released from custody, they again fled, reaching Turkey with the help of relatives. They bought fake passports and eventually travelled to Guyana, the parents said.
So, now they are stuck in detention limbo with no chance of their case being resolved any time soon.

Proposed Actions: At this time, people working behind the scenes are coordinating a media campaign, so our request right now is that you don't contact the media on their behalf. Let's leave that to those who have the connections and resources to do so effectively.

What we're calling for now is for Americans and Canadians to contact their government representatives to express support for this family; to demand that their case be handled as quickly as possible; to bring to light the inappropriate conditions at the Hutto facility and others like it on behalf of all families currently detained; to express concerns about their human rights while imploring our politicians to act immediately.

At this point, it is not clear if the family will be able to seek asylum in the United States or Canada. That's up to the lawyers to figure out. We can certainly have an impact with our elected representatives in the meantime. They all need to be made aware of this situation and they also need to know that we will be watching them closely to gauge their reactions or lack thereof.

It's important to note that many elected officials simply choose to ignore e-mails or take a long time to actually respond to them. Snail mail letters, phone calls and faxes seem to get their attention much more quickly.

American contacts: You can find a guide to contact your representatives here.

Canadian contacts: This is a directory of Canadian government contacts.

Non-governmental organizations:
Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch

The ACLU and Amnesty International Canada are aware of this case. Please support their efforts. We don't know if UNICEF or HRW are on the case yet but there are several agencies in Texas and the United States that are attempting to bring more attention to these cases as well. You can find them by searching for the facility's name: "T. Don Hutto Residential Center", which will also inform you about the number of protests made against the center since it opened.

Annamarie and I will post updates on our blogs as they become available.

Annamarie's blog: Verbena-19
My blog: liberal catnip

Please spread the word throughout the blogosphere and in your offline communities. These detainees need your help.

Feel free to copy this action alert in its entirety to post on your site.

Thank you.

- Annamarie and catnip

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