Reports have started to emerge from Artesia, New Mexico, suggesting that conditions are dangerous and unhealthy inside the family detention center that was created almost overnight at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). Others have expressed concerns that procedures within the detention center present a threat to due process that could result in women and children who have sought refuge at the U.S.-Mexico border being sent back into harm's way.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has allowed some to tour the facility, including Tannia Esparza, executive director of Young Women United. Esparza told the Associated Press that the women she visited in Artesia reported that children were sick with coughs and diarrhea but were not given medication and that pregnant women are being targeted for quick deportation.
Olsi Vrapi, an attorney who has been inside Artesia to see clients, reports that the facility isn’t equipped to handle vulnerable women and children and is so remote that it restricts asylum-seekers' access to legal services.
My impression of the Artesia makeshift detention center is that it is a due process travesty. Is it really coincidence that a detention center was set up overnight in the middle of nowhere where the closest immigration lawyer or non-profit (which by the way can’t provide direct representation) is 3+ hours away?
The detention center is part of the Obama Administration's plan to detain and deport as many families and children as possible as fast as possible. It sounds like the conditions at Artesia and the way cases are being handled are in keeping with that goal. Vrapi continues:
It appears the government is paying lip service to due process and just going through the statutory and regulatory requirements as fast as possible so they can give a semblance of compliance while the airplane to central America is warming its engines in nearby Roswell. ... What’s most troubling is the message the president and Secretary Johnson are carrying which is “we will send you home.” Are they prejudging cases before they are being heard? You bet they are. This is the same as saying everyone who is arrested in the United States is guilty and we will send you to prison and here, let us give you a “fair” trial since the constitution says we should before we do that. I hate politics and I hate politics even more when we are sending some people to their deaths or serious harm in the name of “sending a message.”
Vrapi also reports that there is an issue of there being too few female guards and that male guards are escorting women and children alone:
We did notice something strange. There were more male officers than there were females. While we did not see where our clients came from we noticed that it was male officers escorting them. We inquired with a friendly officer on our way out and he wasn’t really sure what was going on and who was allowed and not allowed to go into the actual dormitories, so it appeared they had no clear guidance about gender sensitive escorts. Again, when you spring up a jail overnight, things like this are bound to happen.
The T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas, was a family detention center until 2009. And between April 2009 and May 2010, at least eight women were sexually assaulted by a male guard who escorted the detained women to the airport alone. Though transporting the women alone was a violation of the contract between Corrections Corporation of America and ICE, the 5th Circuit Court ruled that neither CCA or ICE would be held responsible. Former CCA guard Donald Dunn was sentenced to 10 months in prison in 2011.
The disturbing news out of Artesia and the horrifying history of family detention at Hutto does not bode well for the Karnes County Civil Detention Center, a for-profit private prison operated by the GEO Group currently being prepared to detain families and children near San Antonio.
What a shame on our country if Central American families and children fleeing violence come to the U.S. only to have their human rights violated at the hands of our federal government and the private prison corporations it contracts with to operate some of these facilities.