Five years ago immigration advocates praised the Obama administration for closing down the only large-scale detention center for immigrant women and children. Now, in response to the surge of Central American migrants caught at the border after seeking asylum, it has quietly opened two new family detention facilities that have more than 1,200 beds, and cribs.
While unaccompanied migrant children have largely been placed with family members already in the country, those who were stopped at the border with their mothers are being treated differently.
Democracy Now! has documented how more than 650 women and children, some as young as 18 months old, have been sent to an isolated detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. Watch the video above to see Democracy Now! producer Renee Feltz report on the poor conditions and lack of due process there, and the lawyers mobilizing to assist them. This week the first detainee in Artesia was granted bond as her asylum claim is processed, but it was set at $25,000, an unusually high sum since studies show refugees almost always show up to their asylum hearings.
In August, hundreds more kids and their mothers began to be transferred to a detention center in Karnes City, Texas, which is run by the private prison company, Geo Group, and has another 600 beds which used to hold male prisoners.
All of this comes as immigration advocates had been planning to mark the fifth anniversary of the end of family detention. It was August 2009 when Obama closed down the only other large detention center that held women and children–the "T. Don Hutto facility in Texas, run by Corrections Corporation of America, where the American Civil Liberties Union had to sue to improve conditions, saying toddlers in prison uniforms spent most of the day locked in their cells. Since then, the only other place that held toddlers or babies still nursing had been the Berks Family Residential Service in Leesport, Pennsylvania, which has 85 beds.
Obama’s repatriation policy is reflected in his $3.7 billion emergency supplemental request, which includes $879 million for 6,350 more beds for detained families, at about $120/day per bed. It would also open 23,000 daily slots for alternatives to detention. Geo Group stands to profit from this as well, since its subsidiary Bi Incorporated has the main contract to provide electronic monitoring bracelets that track immigrants with cases still being processed.
Meanwhile a New York based company has proposed building a 3,500 bed warehouse for unaccompanied migrant children in Clint, Texas. It would be called the "Abraham Lincoln Transitional Lodge," according to the company’s application. The town itself has 926 residents according to the 2010 census. The Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing the proposal.