The Least of These: Family Detention in America

11/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last month President Obama announced plans to overhaul immigration detention with an eye towards a "truly civil detention system." News that the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas will no longer hold immigrant families is a step in the right direction.

Proponents of family detention should take a look at The Least of These, a documentary which provides a rare glimpse of life inside the family detention center where half the detainees were children.

Before it served as an immigrant-detention facility, the T. Don Hutto Residential Center was a medium-security prison in a rural area of Texas. (The other family detention facility is in Berks County, Pennsylvania, but Hutto is the only one that is owned and operated by a private prison company).

Some of the most heart wrenching scenes in the documentary occur when the children talk about their experiences in detention. Children live in confined quarters alongside their parents and are present when parents are interviewed by their lawyers. Education opportunities are very limited; security guards often threaten children who misbehave with separation from their parents.

The closing of Hutto does not mean that family detention is a thing of the past. But given the financial and other challenges of housing families in detention centers, President Obama should consider more 'civil' alternatives available, such as releasing families into the community.

Arlene M. Roberts is the author of 'The Faces of Detention and Deportation: A Report on the Forced Repatriation of Immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean'.