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LIRS Celebrates Release of Children, Improved Conditions Recommended in LIRS Report

Landmark Settlement Announced in Federal Lawsuit

Contact: Liz O'Neill, Interim Director for Communications, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), 410-230-2791, lirspress@lirs.org

BALTIMORE, Aug. 31 /Christian Newswire/ -- Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) welcomes a federal judge's decision to approve the settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of children and teenagers detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the University of Texas School of Law shortly after the release of a report, co-authored by LIRS, entitled Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families. The report raised, for the first time, grave concerns about living conditions at the former prison, where children and their families are detained while awaiting immigration court hearings or deportation. Since the lawsuit was filed in March 2007, 26 children have been released from the facility.

The settlement between the ACLU and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, (ICE) was announced August 27 just as the trial was about to begin. LIRS, while pleased with the agreement, cautioned that alternatives to detention exist and should be applied for immigrant families. "We're so proud that our report has led to concrete results at Hutto, as outlined in the settlement between the ACLU and federal officials. Now it's time to take the next steps. We've demonstrated time and again that there are more humane alternatives that work. Acting tough by throwing families behind bars is a shameful way to solve complex immigration problems. Enforcement is compatible with justice," said Annie Wilson, LIRS executive vice president.

Several of LIRS's recommended reforms were included in the settlement. ICE has committed to implementing family detention standards at the facility within four months. ICE has agreed to improve privacy and living arrangements at Hutto and to ensure that children will receive five hours per day of education by a certified professional teacher. Detained families will have increased telephone access and will be able to receive visitors during specified times. Parents will be allowed to have private meetings with their attorneys. Medical and dental care appropriate for children will be accessible on-site, and mental health care will be available for those who need it. Families will no longer be required to wear institutional uniforms and will be allowed to stay together at night if they choose. Children will be allowed to have toys, and families will be able to eat together on a more flexible schedule.

Even if all these reforms are implemented, however, the practice of detention remains fundamentally inappropriate for families. LIRS strongly encourages Congress and ICE to expand and utilize alternatives to detention for immigrant families and to implement enforceable, humane standards for family detention--either through statute or regulation--that would hold ICE accountable for the situations in which families continue to be detained.

More information about the litigation can be found at http://www.aclu.org/immigrants/detention/hutto.html.

Details of the settlement can be found at http://www.aclu.org/immigrants/detention/31504lgl20070826.html.

LIRS is a cooperative agency of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. With initiative and stewardship, LIRS seeks creative solutions for uprooted people regardless of race, ethnicity or religious beliefs.