[EN] A detention center for migrants has been opened in Dilley, Texas, and “accommodates” especially women and children. It has been inaugurated by the secretary of Homeland Security, who claimed for the reinforcement of the US South-West border. The speech, addressed to illegal migrants, has been clear: « it will now be more likely that you will be detained and sent back ». Lawyers are determined to remind the bad consequences of these strategies of detention, especially on the health and the conditions of life of migrants.
Detention Center Presented as Deterrent to Border Crossings
DILLEY, Tex. — Jeh C. Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, came to this South Texas outpost on Monday to open the country’s largest immigration detention facility and draw attention to border security measures that are part of President Obama’s fiercely debated executive actions on immigration.While Mr. Obama has offered protection from deportation and work permits to millions of unauthorized immigrants, he has also ordered efforts to reinforce the southwest border to prevent a new surge of illegal immigration. The 50-acre center in Dilley, 85 miles northeast of Laredo, will hold up to 2,400 migrants who have illegally crossed the border and is especially designed to hold women and their children. Standing on a dirt road lined with cabins in a barren compound enclosed by fencing, Mr. Johnson delivered a blunt message to families without legal papers considering a trip to the United States: “It will now be more likely that you will be detained and sent back.” Republicans have assailed Mr. Obama’s measures, saying he overstepped his constitutional authority with a sweeping program of deportation reprieves that they predict will attract another wave of migrants like the one in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley this summer.
Republican leaders have vowed to halt the programs when their party takes control of Congress next month. More than 20 states, led by Republican officials in Texas, have sued to stop the federal government from issuing the deportation reprieves.
But the administration’s huge expansion of family detention has drawn similarly angry criticism from advocates, lawyers and faith leaders on the other side, who argue that prolonged confinement is inappropriate for young children and mothers who pose no security risks. Until now, the largest permanent facility for migrant families was a center in Pennsylvania with about 100 beds.
“It is inhumane to house young mothers with children in restrictive detention facilities as if they are criminals,” Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, the chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, said Monday. “Already traumatized from their journey, these families are very vulnerable and need care and support, not further emotional and psychological harm.”
Mr. Johnson said the administration was making “a sharp distinction between past and future,” with recent border crossers now in the highest priority category for deportation.
He chastised Republicans in Congress who expressed dismay at Mr. Obama’s executive actions by funding the Department of Homeland Securitythrough only the end of February in a spending bill passed last weekend.
Mr. Johnson said the short-term funding had created uncertainty for the department’s border and counterterrorism missions, including complicating funding for new detention beds. “This facility costs money,” Mr. Johnson said. The Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison company that will run the center, estimates the cost at $296 a day for each detainee, officials said.
“Everyone agrees that border security is important,” Mr. Johnson said, addressing his comments to Congress. “Now it’s time to step up and partner with this department to help support that.”
The center here, benignly named the South Texas Family Residential Center, is to house women with their children while their deportation cases move through the courts. Scrambling to respond to the surge of families across the Rio Grande this summer, Homeland Security officials opened a temporary center for 700 migrants on a law enforcement campus in Artesia, a remote town in southeast New Mexico. The last migrants in Artesia will be transferred out this week and the center closed, officials said.
Dilley will begin receiving migrants in coming days. Officials refurbished barracks that had been a camp for workers in this oil and gas boomtown. About 480 women and children will be housed here while a much larger, permanent facility is built next door, officials said.
During a guided tour Monday, reporters saw orderly cabins that seemed likely to provide relief, at least initially, for migrants, many from Central America, after the punishing journey to the border. Each cabin, designed for up to eight people, was furnished with a small kitchen, couches and a flat-screen television. On the wall in the bathroom were instructions on the use and disposal of toilet paper.
In the bedrooms were bunk beds and cribs stocked with baby jumpsuits and blankets, diapers, tiny socks and toys — reminders of the young detainees to come. In a mobile trailer was a nursery school, run by a private contractor, with small chairs and colorful playspaces. A classroom for older children had computers and a sign saying: “Welcome! Bienvenido!”
Children will attend school five hours a day five days a week, an immigration official said. There was a children’s library stocked with books, and an outside jungle gym.
In contrast to the Artesia center, where lawyers found severely limited access to detainees and cramped spaces for court hearings, officials have set up three formal immigration courtrooms in Dilley, complete with wooden benches. Judges will hear cases by videoconference.
Mr. Johnson tried to leave no doubt that the administration was committed to detaining families. “l believe this is an effective deterrent,” he said.
Many women at Artesia have said they did not expect to be detained if they made it to the United States, Mr. Johnson said. The numbers of people in families detained at the border has dropped to nearly a two-year low, he said.
“Frankly, we want to send a message that our border is not open to illegal migration, and if you come here, you should not expect to simply be released,” Mr. Johnson said.
Many advocates are determined to fight the administration’s plans. Lawyers and mental health professionals who assisted women in Artesia said prolonged detention had proved damaging to mothers and their children.
Many of the women were fleeing severe sexual abuse and domestic violence at home. A group of lawyers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association represented 12 women in Artesia whose asylum claims were heard by judges, and the women won every case. The women, often revealing their experiences for the first time, told stories of serial rape by husbands and beatings of their children with belts and pistols.
One woman was granted asylum after she fled a gang that killed her brother, shot her husband and kidnapped and raped her 14-year-old stepdaughter.
Stephen Manning, an immigration lawyer who led the team, said the legal effort in Artesia had relied on volunteers who came from as far away as Portland, Ore., and Chicago. The lawyers association does not have the capability to mount a new volunteer effort in Dilley for many more migrants, Mr. Manning said. Homeland Security officials have insisted on requiring high bond for the women to be released, he said.
“I have no idea what we will do,” Mr. Manning said. “I’m at a loss for words to imagine what Dilley will look like with so many 6-year-olds detained behind razor wire.”
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InformationsDate(s) of publication: 15/12/2014
Credits: The New York Times
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