Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) visited and disclosed details of the newest and largest immigrant detention center for undocumented women and children.

The South Texas Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, is the latest detention facility by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Representatives of the NGOs Women's Refugee Commission (WRC), American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) visited the Dilley facility on Tuesday, Jan. 13.

Royce Murray, director of policy at NIJC, acknowledged the Dilley facility will contain 2,400 beds for the detainees. While the Jan. 13 visit featured 239 detainees, Murray said the facility is expected to reach full capacity later this spring, potentially May or June.

Of the 239 detainees in Dilley, 108 are mothers and 131 are children -- the youngest child is 18 months month. Murray noted 108 people are from El Salvador, 67 people from Guatemala, 43 people from Honduras and nine are from Brazil and Ecuador. Coincidentally during the Tuesday trip, the first family was deported from Dilley on the same day.

The cost for family detention is "astronomical" with estimates per day ranging $266 to $300 per person. Murray added, "That's on top of what's been existing detention budget of over $2 billion a year."

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Murray noted a distinct issue at the facility pertains to indigenous languages since there is no expert to provide interpretation, except for some staffers being bilingual. "For individuals who don't speak Spanish, the ability to communicate with guards, with ICE staff, with medical staff, with attorneys, is infinitely complicated," said Murray.

Katharina Obser, program officer in the Migrant Rights and Justice Program for WRC, said many families at Dilley had faced persecution, violence and trauma and sought safety in the U.S. Obser said she was told 80 percent of the population at Dilley expressed fears of returning to their native country.

"These mothers and their children do not pose any public safety or national security risk and in many cases they are volunteering themselves to law enforcement officials," said Obser.

Christina Brown, lead attorney for the AILA - Immigration Council Artesia Pro Bono Project, identified nearly all the detained women and children are asylum seekers with "a vast majority" having legitimate asylum claims. Access to legal counsel is another concern, particularly those who speak with an indigenous language and not understanding the legal proceedings surrounding them.

The South Texas Family Detention Center, located nearly 70 miles southwest of San Antonio, is run by the private company Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), under a contract with ICE, under an Intergovernmental Service Agreement (IGSA), and the city of Eloy, Arizona.


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