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, [Homeland Security Director Jeh] 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.”
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 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.
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!”
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.”