Thursday, March 19, 2009

Documentary focuses on family detention center

Documentary focuses on family detention center
By ANABELLE GARAY Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press
March 12, 2009, 5:31PM

DALLAS — A documentary chronicling the case of immigrant children held at a former prison with their families premieres next week at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin.
"The Least of These" follows the 2007 lawsuit that led to changes at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center, a Central Texas facility advocates contended inhumanely housed adults and children. It also focuses on four families who were detained at Hutto, including the Yourdkhanis, an Iranian couple who had been trying to reach Canada with their Canadian-born son.
"In the case of these four families, they all have very compelling and moving reasons to be in the country. They are all seeking asylum," Marcy Garriott, one of the film's producers, said Thursday.
Many of the Hutto detainees told of guards disciplining children by threatening to separate them from their parents, scant medical care and school days that lasted a few hours. Children were housed in tiny cells furnished by bunkbeds and a toilet. Concertina wire used to line the outside of the site.
In March 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, the University of Texas Law School Immigration Clinic and the law firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae filed lawsuits on behalf of 26 children held at Hutto. They reached a settlement with the federal government that called for a softer environment and improved conditions at Hutto.
The settlement also ordered more oversight of the facility. Michelle Brane, one of the advocates featured in the film and director of the Women's Refugee Commission's Detention and Asylum Program, plans to return to Hutto on Tuesday to review the changes.
"The Least of These" is co-directed by Clark Lyda and Jesse Lyda, both of whom also produced the film with Garriott, an Austin documentary filmmaker. It premieres Monday at SXSW and can be viewed for free online after premiering. Follow-up screenings are set for Wednesday and Friday at SXSW and later in the year at New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.
"Our goal is really to raise awareness," Garriott said. "Our goal is not to convince people on one opinion or another ... it's whether this makes sense as a solution for keeping track of families."
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