On March 6, 2007, attorneys with the national ACLU Foundation, the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, the ACLU National Prison project, the ACLU of Texas, the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic and private cooperating counsel filed ten separate lawsuits in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas challenge the conditions of confinement for immigrant children and their families who were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas. Additional lawsuits were subsequently filed, and eventually twenty such suits were consolidated by the District Court (Judge Sam Sparks) under the case In re Hutto Family Detention Center, No. 1:07-cv-00164-SS.
Plaintiffs asserted claims for alleged violations of the 1997 Settlement Agreement in Flores v. Meese, No. 85-cv-4544 (C.D. Cal.), IM-CA-0002. In Flores, the U.S. Department of Justice settled a class action lawsuit brought by minor immigrant detainees by agreeing to establish minimum standards and conditions for the housing and release of all minors in federal immigration custody. The Agreement provided that: (1) children would generally be released promptly to their parents or designated family members, or, if necessary, to shelters and unrelated custodians; (2) those class members who remained in ICE's custody must be placed in the least restrictive setting possible, generally a facility or home licensed for the care of dependent, non-delinquent minors; and (3) regardless of where they were housed, detained minors were to be guaranteed a range of basic educational, health, social, and other benefits and rights. The Agreement also explicitly provided at Paragraph 24 that any minor in federal immigration custody who believed that the conditions of his/her detention failed to meet the established minimum standard of care could file suit in federal court to seek redress.
The lawsuits filed by the Hutto detainees all invoked Paragraph 24 of the Flores Agreement and alleged that conditions at Hutto violated virtually every single provision of the Flores Settlement Agreement. Plaintiffs alleged that Hutto was operated as a medium security prison, where children were: (1) required to wear prison uniforms; (2) confined to small cells; (3) denied access to adequate medical, dental, and mental health treatment; (4) denied adequate educational opportunities; and (5) frequently disciplined by guards who threatened to permanently separate them from their parents.
The lawsuits sought a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, requesting the release of the detained children and their families under reasonable conditions of supervision, and for an order prohibiting the government from separating the children from their parents.
The government denied the allegations and opposed injunctive relief.
On April 9, 2007, the District Court (Judge Sparks) held a hearing on plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction. The Court granted plaintiffs' request in part and denied it in part, denying the request for the children's' immediate release, but finding that the conditions at Hutto violated the Flores Agreement and that plaintiffs were likely to prevail at trial. Bunikyte ex rel. Bunikiene v. Chertoff, No. 1:07-cv-00164-SS, 2007 WL 1074070 (W.D. Tex. Apr. 9, 2007). Judge Sparks determined that a full evidentiary hearing was necessary to determine the extent of the violations and the appropriate remedy. The case was set for trial in August 2007.
On April 18, 2007, The government moved to dismiss the case, or in the alternative, to stay proceedings to Enable Parties to Devote Full Resources to Resolving All Claims Brought Under Paragraph 24 of the Flores Settlement Agreement. Judge Sparks denied the motion on May 10.
Settlement negotiations ensued and the case was submitted to mediation, where it was ultimately resolved in July 2007. A formal Settlement Agreement was reached and approved by the Court on August 29, 2007. The Agreement called for a number of substantial reforms, including changes in the areas of recreation, educational programming, guard training, improved medical care, visitation, food service and privacy, and elimination of 12-hour-a-day cell lock-down. Compliance was to be monitored by federal Magistrate Judge Andrew W. Austin who was to conduct periodic inspections of the Hutto facility. The agreement was set to terminate at the first of three events: the publication in the federal register of final regulations implementing the Flores Agreement, the discontinuance of use of Hutto as a family residential center, and the passage of two years.
On July 2, 2009, Magistrate Judge Austin issued his final compliance report, finding that Hutto had made significant progress in many areas, and especially in mental health services, but that food, communication between residents and staff and staff behavior toward residents continued to be areas of concern, and that the facility, which was originally constructed as a jail, was ultimately ill-suited to its current use.
On August 6, 2009, the federal government announced that it would cease housing families in the Hutto center, and by September 17, 2009, the last families had been transferred to a smaller facility in Pennsylvania or released subject to home or electronic monitoring. The Court (Judge Sparks) dismissed the case on October 6.Christopher Schad - 06/08/2012