Hutto: LULAC's Corrections Corporation of America connection

As a growing coalition of activists prepares for what they hope will be the most high-profile protest yet at the immigrant-family detention center in Taylor, Texas, fellow activists are challenging LULAC over sponsorship monies received from the private company that runs the prison.

Corrections Corporation of America, the private-prison vanguard and government partner -- which opened the T. Don Hutto facility in May 2006 and continues to operate it as a contractor with the Federal government -- sponsored the LULAC national convention in 2005, 2006, and 2007, according to electronic versions of the convention programs available online. CCA is listed at the Patron level each year, which requires a minimum donation of $10,000, for a total of $30,000 over the three-year period. Critics Antonio Diaz of the Texas Indigenous Council and Pedro Ruiz believe CCA was sponsoring LULAC events as early as 2002.

An unknown number of men, women (including pregnant women), children, and infants are housed at the facility, which was originally built as a maximum-security prison. LULAC, the highly influential Latino advocacy organization, has organized local and national campaigns to close the prison and participated in numerous vigils held in Taylor.

LULAC National Treasurer Jaime Martinez, a longtime San Antonio labor activist, says that when he was made aware of the sponsorship, he and President Rosa Rosales immediately initiated the return of the $10,000 that year.

"We don't want any sponsorships from CCA," said Martinez, calling the money "tainted."

LULAC National Executive Director Brent Wilkes confirms Martinez's account, and says he believes the CCA money was returned in 2007, the last year that LULAC accepted sponsorship money from CCA for its conference. Previous years' funds were not returned, he said, in part because they were probably already spent.

Prior to the Hutto conflict, says Wilkes, LULAC found many things to like about CCA, including a program the corporation initiated to give Mexican Nationals who would face deportation upon release from prison the opportunity to obtain the equivalent of a GED. Wilkes says he believes the CCA sponsorship money was for a Latino law-enforcement awards breakfast held at the conference.

"But when we found out about the Hutto facility," Wilkes said, "we returned the funds."

"We felt very strongly that we didn't want to be associated with that," he added.

Wilkes says it's simply an oversight that CCA was still included as of this morning on's Buy America list, the tagline for which is "Support American Jobs and Workers. Companies That Support Our Communities."

"I imagine that's an old list," said Wilkes. "That'll be fixed."

Martinez and Hutto activist Jay Johnson-Castro worry that raising the CCA controversy will undo three years of coalition-building on the Hutto issue, which will culminate in a June 20 vigil in Taylor in honor of World Refugee Day. Outspoken critic Diaz publicly decried LULAC at an August 2007 Hutto protest and vigil; his message, said Diaz, was "If you support LULAC, you support CCA."

"It hurt all of us," said Johnson-Castro. "It hurt our cause that somebody would be so indiscreet as to publicly scam an ally."

Johnson-Castro hopes to keep the focus and pressure on President Obama and the Dem-dominated Congress to close Hutto.

"We can't call children illegals," says Johnson-Castro. "We cannot imprison children for profit."

Get details on the June 20 protest and more info on America's Family Prison at the T Don Hutto blogspot. More in next week's issue of the Current: Wouldn't it be nice if the U.S. would ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child? says Johnson-Castro. We're keeping lonely company with Somalia as the sole UN holdouts on that radical piece of humanitarianism.