Posted on December 16, 2014

Detention Center Presented as Deterrent to Border Crossings

Julia Preston, New York Times, December 16, 2014

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.”


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 Security through 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.


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. {snip}


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.


“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.