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Immigration Rights Groups Criticize ICE's New Texas Family Detention Center

First Posted: Sep 24, 2014 01:29 PM EDT
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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced plans to establish a new family detention facility to address the increasing numbers of undocumented immigrants entering the country, and national Latino and immigrant rights groups are not pleased.

ICE plans to create a new 2,400-bed family detention center in Dilley, Texas, known as the "South Texas Family Detention Center," which is located nearly 70 miles southwest of San Antonio. According to the Texas Observer, ICE spokesperson Nina Pruneda said the facility aims to "accommodate the influx of individuals arriving illegally on the Southwest border."

The ICE announcement was not well-received by immigrant rights organizations. Women's Refugee Commission's Migrant Rights and Justice Program Director Michelle Brané said it was "disappointing" for the Obama administration to expand policies of detaining families that have "consistently proven" to be "inhumane, unnecessary, and a waste of taxpayer money."

"Many of the women and children in ICE's new detention facilities are asylum seekers who are traumatized and fleeing violence and abuse in their home countries," Brané added. "Rather than invest hundreds of millions of dollars in new facilities to arbitrarily detain families, the Administration should consider alternatives to detention that better serve the mental and physical wellbeing of vulnerable families that have fled from some of the most dangerous parts of the world in search of safety."

Brané noted the South Texas Family Detention Center will cost nearly $300 per day per person, or up to $260 million every year. She said the administration claimed to having insufficient funds for blankets for detained immigrant children yet continued to spend millions on a new detention center for people seeking protection.

"The administration must reverse course on family detention and end this inhumane and costly practice that undermines our most basic values," Brané told Latin Post.

According to the National Immigration Forum, a private prison company named Corrections Corporation of America will run the Dilley facility. National Immigration Forum Executive Director Ali Noorani said family detention is a failed approach on both financial and moral grounds. Noorani added that the new facility would be a "step backward" in the administration's efforts to phase out family detention.

"Detaining mothers, teenagers and younger children together hurts families, tramples due process and is excessively costly ... ICE should rely on less costly, humane alternatives to detention. Such alternatives have proved effective and respect the dignity of mothers and children, many of whom have valid immigration claims. Their cases should be heard by immigration judges in a timely and fair fashion," Noorani said.

The American Civil Liberties Union also expressed "extreme" disappointment with ICE's announcement. ACLU's Washington Legislative Office Director Laura W. Murphy said the mothers and children at risk of being detained are fleeing ongoing violence from their native Central American countries.

Murphy added, "In just a few short months, the family detention system will have increased from just 90 beds to almost 4,000. History shows us that imprisoning families limits access to due process, harms the physical and mental health of parents and children, and undermines the family structure by stripping parents of their authority. Rather than incarcerating thousands of mothers and children, DHS should be investing in effective, humane, and far less costly alternatives to detention."

ICE's announcement comes as the Detention Watch Network released findings on the conditions at the Artesia Family Residential Center in Mexico. The Artesia detention facility, as Latin Post reported, has been a concern for multiple national immigration rights and law groups, who are suing the federal government over legal counsel access and conditions. The report, titled "Expose and Close: Artesia Family Residential Center, New Mexico," outlined the hurdles to obtaining legal services, telephone communication interference, insufficient medical and mental health care and lack of childcare and educational services.

Detention Watch Network's Policy Counsel Madhuri Grewal has called for the Obama administration to close all family detention facilities, including Artesia. Grewal said the administration should also cancel plans for the Dilley detention center and instead "divert funds toward providing refugee support to the families and children arriving at the border."

According to the report, the last three months have seen the use of family detention in the U.S. increase by over 1,200 percent. Rep. Judy Chu, D-CA, has said the increased use of family detention is "extremely concerning."

"Let's be clear, there is no way to detain families humanely," Chu said. "As this important report details, these facilities detain a particularly vulnerable population with poor access to mental health care and legal counsel. I am particularly alarmed by children and their mothers -- many of whom are victims of domestic violence -- being held in prison-like conditions that betray our country's role as a leader in refugee protections."  

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