Sunday, February 25, 2007

9 year-old Canadian imprisoned in infamous Texas detention facility


Contact Peter Mackay. Contact him now.
AnnaMarie at Verbena-19 has alerted us to the latest Canadian-related outrage stemming from the 'War on Terror.' Kevin, a 9 y/o Canadian boy is being detained in an Immigration prison in Texas:
The child’s only crime was that he and his Iranian parents happened to be on a flight enroute from Guyana on what was a direct flight to Toronto on February 4th. Unfortunately, the plane was diverted to Puerto Rico after a passenger suffered a heart attack.
Once they disembarked, US officials discovered the family was travelling with fake Greek passports. They were detained for five days, then flown to the detention centre in Texas.
AnnaMarie has posted about this daily since the story broke in The Toronto Star, last week. On Friday, the family managed to get through to Democracy Now. Here's Kevin's father, Majid, speaking with Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzales:
MAJID: Hello. Thanks for taking my call. I was on my way to go to Toronto, Canada, and my plane was -- after three hours in the flight, somebody died on the plane and had an emergency landing to Costa Rica. After that, they said everybody should come out. After that, we went out. Immigration, they said you need to have American visa. We had no American visa. And they hold us over there --
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.
First off, I had no idea that such "family" prisons existed in North America. I can't even begin to wrap my head around the concept of imprisoning children and babies. Upon hearing the news from AnnaMarie's blog, I hopped around the internets and landed on this report by Michelle Brane: "Locking up family values". Brane et al. discovered that 'family detention' has increased quite drastically in the last 6 yrs:
On any given day the U.S. government has the capacity to detain over 600 men, women and children apprehended as family units along the U.S. border and within the interior of the country. The detention of families expanded dramatically in 2006 with the opening of the new 512-bed T. Don Hutto Residential Center. Although Hutto has become the centerpiece of a major expansion of immigration detention in America, it builds on and further institutionalizes many of the practices established at the smaller Berks Family Shelter Care Facility in Leesport, Pa., where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has detained a small number of families since 2001.
Among Brane's findings regarding the Hutto facility:
  • 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.
(h/t Mujeresliebres for the link to the report)
The Texas Civil Rights Review and Texans United for Families have worked really hard to raise awareness about these prisons. In fact, Texans United held a vigil outside Hutto on Dec 16, 2006 (watch videos documenting their protest here). As you can see, Kevin is one of approximately 200 children held at the Hutto prison. There are others, and their stories are slowly trickling out. Meet John Gibson, attorney:
Immigration attorney John Gibson represents two Palestinian families, including a pregnant woman and five children ranging in age from 2 to 17. After the families were detained in early November, the fathers were separated, and the women and children sent to the Hutto jail.
Our last update from AnnaMarie urged us to act quickly, as Kevin's asthma is worsening in the poorly ventilated and moldy prison. I believe this account, not just because I trust AnnaMarie's sources, but because so many other children have taken ill in this place (from In These Times magazine). The Houston Chronicle has also worked hard to document the stories of Hutto families:
Detainees say that families sleep in cold prison cells, with the slamming of jail gates and a siren of wailing children ringing in the halls. During the day, they share couches in a common area, reading or watching TV for hours on end.
[...] While many of the guards are said to be warm and friendly with the children, presenting them with stickers and turns at the PlayStation, others are said to yell at misbehaving youngsters and even threaten to separate them from their mothers if they don't comply.
"They don't treat people like humans, only animals," said one former detainee, who is seeking asylum from gang violence and corruption in Guatemala. He asked that his name not be used for fear it would hurt his asylum case. "The baby was crying a lot because he didn't see the sun. I thought prisons were for murderers. What did the baby do wrong?"
[...]Some detainees
complain of rashes and sores, which they believe could be caused by dirty uniforms, detergent allergies or depression and stress. Some children reportedly suffer vomiting bouts from the food or weight loss from refusing to eat.
Mustafa's mother, Bahjo Hosen, said her toddler won the hearts of many guards. But he soon became sick with diarrhea, fever and dizziness, she said. He would often vomit after meals and lost several pounds after he refused to eat the food and drank only milk.
Mustafa and Bahjo now were released at the end of January. This is how they first wound up in an American "family" prison:
They arrived last June after fleeing death threats in their homeland. Bahjo said her brother had been murdered and the killers were afraid she'd turn them in. Fearing for her life, she left her husband and 7-year-old son in Mogadishu and boarded a flight to Mexico.
She crossed the border in Mission and wandered lost for a few hours before she found a woman who gave her and Mustafa, then 2, some water. Bahjo asked the woman to call immigration authorities. The woman at first refused and told her to run, but Bahjo insisted she wanted to turn herself in to formally request asylum. She believed in the American system.
"I used to think this was the best country in the world, that it would take care of kids, respect kids," she said. "I never thought I would be seven months inside Hutto."
Let's get to work and make sure this same fate doesn't befall Kevin and his family. Check-in with AnnaMarie for regular updates. She has been in email-contact with Matthew Pizzo, the law student who took Majid's phone-call to the University of Texas' immigration clinic. Pizzo has communicated the family's plight to the Canadian Consulate in Dallas. Something of a 'blogburst' is beginning to take shape. Pogge (skdadl), liberal catnip, April Reign, Thought Interrupted, The Cylinder, Vive le Canada, The Next Agenda (nbstar), My Blahg, JimBobby, The Galloping Beaver and Kenn Chaplin have added their voices. Please add yours!

Now. We need to contact Peter Mackay at Foreign Affairs.
We need to contact him now.

Sunday, February 25, 11:19 AM: Edited to add JimBobby link; 12:57 PM: Edited to add Galloping Beaver link; 8:18 PM: Edited to add Kenn Chaplin's link.
{Hutto image courtesy of Julie Pippert at
The Ravin' Picture Maven}

6 Comments:

Anonymous Kuri said...

Great post - you really sum up the situation well. :)

2/25/2007 3:14 PM  
Blogger Erik Sorenson said...

Apparently few folks are actually reading the transcript of the telephone conversation with the family in Puerto Rico, and bear in mind that their “story” stated in the call is completely unverified at this time, including claims of torture, what authorities said or did not say, etc. Also remember that this father/mother is a proven liar and subverter of the immigration process in Canada, so his current “claims” should be taken as just that … claims.

If I understand the situation correctly:

1. The Iranian husband and wife got into Canada illegally many, many years ago, and sought asylum but were ordered deported.

2. During their stay in Canada their son Kevin was born. He is now 7 (or 9) and is claimed to be a Canadian citizen; someone might want to confirm this. Frankly, I think THIS is a travesty against Canadians if it is true (that Kevin is a Canadian citizen).

3. The family lost their hearings and were deported back to Iran.

4. Somehow, the family was trying to get back into Canada again, with no visas or pre-authorization. There is no evidence in the dialogue that their son had a Canadian birth certificate, passport, or any other form of Canadian identification. The fact they were flying through Guyana (Costa Rico also mentioned) on their way here suggests a very round-about approach to getting into Canada. Wonder why?

5. They say their plane made an unplanned landing in Puerto Rico (US possesion) due to an on-board flight emergency. This can not be verified, and it is just as possible that the family was trying to get into the US. Note: Puerto Rico one time during the phone call, Costa Rica another time — very confusing.

6. The US authorities have detained the family in PR. Presumably the lack of a Canadian or US visa for the family made them undesirables, which is understandable. They sure can’t send them on their way to Canada … this isn’t anything remotely resembling the Arar case that some commenters are trying to insinuate in the blogsphere.

7. The storyline really is told in one sentence (probably unthinkingly) by the father in the call: “If Canada give us a visa, we go there; we go to US, if here, we’ll stay here.”

So, as a Canadian, I have zero sympathy or tolerance for a family which has already entered Canada illegally before, been ordered deported, have gone through the appeal and hearing process, have been deported finally, and who are trying to sneak back into Canada again.

It is not like the father and mother are uninformed. They are fully informed and experienced with our immigration process. Moreover, their escapades have resulted in the expenditures of huge sums of taxpayer money already.

As far as I am concerned, Canada does not have one iota of responsibility for this family, and we shouldn’t waste our breath on them. If a “do-gooder” wants to spend his/her own money and time on this, including erroneous “petitions” to Minister McKay, then fine. Just don’t ask Canadian taxpayers or our government to support the escapades of this family any more.

Of course, if the family has a responsible relative in Canada willing to assume responsibility (including financial) to take care of their son in Canada, and if the boy actually has Canadian citizenship and papers to prove it, and if they have the means to get the son to Canada on their own (or friends) financial hook, then let them do it.

That’s the only (possibly) legal part of their illegal, repetitive scheme.

As usual, there’s more than meets the eye when the “It’s a travesty” crowd come out of the woodwork and start screaming.

2/25/2007 5:00 PM  
Anonymous godammitkitty said...

Thanks, Kuri!

Erik, I notice that you've left identical comments on pogge, and verbena-19. Stop yourself for a moment: even if you discount the motives, behaviours etc of the parents and write them off (which I do not, btw), what have you got to say about Kevin? Is it ok to imprison children? Really?!

2/25/2007 8:15 PM  
Blogger JimBobby said...

Whooee! Eirk left the selfsame copy&paste up job over t' my little boog, too. He's all innuendo an' "If I understand the situation correctly..."
If I understand the situation correctly, there's a 9 year old Canajun citizen whose havin' his human rights violated. I figger that's what matters an' his theories ain't nuthin' but farts in a windstorm.

Human decency's what's needed in this situation an' Erik ain't got any t' offer.

JB

2/25/2007 8:52 PM  
Blogger FurGaia said...

A very good post. I have linked to it in the one that I did.

As well, I just found this Amy Goodman's article on this awful event: We’ll Lock Up Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free

3/01/2007 2:36 AM  
Anonymous godammitkitty said...

Thanks for the Amy Goodman link, FurGaia! And thank you for posting about this at your blog, too. Best regards--GDK

3/01/2007 10:39 AM  

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