As Americans, it is easy to think that poor living conditions only exist in third world countries. America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, of equality, but the sad truth is that immigrants are not afforded these basic American rights. Immigrants come to America for many reasons: to find a new job, to flee oppression or abuse, to have a better life. When immigrants need to flee their country because they are in fear for their life, it’s not always feasible for them to cross our borders legally. Since border control has been a priority, the US decided to create detention centers for families who have entered the country illegally, with the intention to keep the family unit together.
This was implemented by the conversion of a medium security prison into a holding facility for families with young children called the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in the small town of Taylor, TX, not far from Austin. Instead of being run by the Department of Homeland Security, this detention center is run by the Corrections Corporation of America, or the CCA, which is a for-profit agency that runs many of the country’s prisons. The families were contained in cells, sleeping on metal beds. The children only had one hour of schooling each day that was not taught by licensed teachers and the curriculum wasn’t regulated. Their outdoor time was restricted and there was razor wire surrounding the facility. The food was of poor quality and medical care was sparse at best. These people were not living in a converted prison, but an actual prison.
When the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) discovered the living conditions within Hutto, they organized protests and insisted on a tour of the facilities so they could perform an audit. Their findings were staggering, but the government persisted that it was the best solution.
This documentary chronicles the life span of the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, the stories of four families who spent time at the facility, and the ACLU settlement hearing that stemmed from the mistreatment of the people detained there. We get to hear heartbreaking stories, like the pregnant mother of three young girls who fled Honduras because the father of her children was going to kill her. She fled for her life with two of her children, and had to leave one behind because he had grabbed her and threatened to kill her with a machete. Then when she arrived in America, frightened, pregnant, and with young children, she was detained at Hutto like she was a prisoner. This woman cries as she tells her story and of her experiences inside Hutto, and her children sit solemnly.
The stories are so touching that they prompt some sort of action so this will not happen to anyone else. As a result of the ACLU settlement, more than 100 changes took place at Hutto to make the living conditions more humane. At the end of the film, we get to see another tour of the facility, and the changes are very clear. There is no more razor wire surrounding the facility, the children have schooling for 5 hours a day, and the meal quality has drastically improved.
After watching this documentary, as a Texan, I was inspired to research Hutto and other family detention centers. I found that as of Thursday September 19, 2009, no more families are detained at Hutto. The facility is now going to be filled with non-criminal immigrant women. The family detention center is now at Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, PA. Instead of a converted prison, Berks is a converted nursing home. Hopefully this facility is a vast improvement over Hutto.
The film ends with an interview with President Obama as he quotes the Bible passage from Matthew 25:40: â€œ’I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” America was founded by immigrants and built by immigrants. The Least of These is a reminder that the less fortunate are not always in third world countries, people need our help right here.
This DVD is presented in a widescreen format with Dolby sound. The video and audio is of average TV-style quality.
Trailers: Audience of One, Road to the Big Leagues, Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills, Black Sun
The Least of These is a heart-wrenching film. As it shows the living conditions of the facility and interviews with families who were detained there, your heart will go out to these people and you will want to do something. It isn’t until the very end of the film that we learn that the living conditions have improved which is very reassuring, but now I feel a sequel is required: The Least of These 2: Berks Family Residential Center. I want to know how the government has learned from their mistakes.
Indiepix presents The Least of These. Directed by: Clark Lyda, Jesse Lyda. Starring: members of the ACLU, members of the University of Texas law program, detainees at Hutto. Running time: 62 minutes. Rating: NR. Released on DVD: September 15, 2009. Available at Amazon.com