DILLEY, Texas — On the side of a dusty highway about 70 miles southwest of San Antonio, more than 500 protesters gathered Saturday afternoon in front of the largest immigration detention center in the United States and chanted "shut it down" as facility guards watched from the other side of a barbed wire fence.
The detention center in Dilley, a South Texas town of about 3,600 people, was built in December 2014 to host up to 2,400 undocumented women and children who are seeking asylum. Protesters from all over the country — as far as California and New York — trekked to Dilley on Saturday to call for an end to family detention.
"Many of them are escaping from violence and torture, from abuse at the hands of gangs," said Sofia Casini, a detention visitation coordinator at Grassroots Leadership, an organization that helped orchestrate the protest. "To be put inside of centers with armed guards, where the kids are yelled at, it's all a re-traumatization process."
The South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley — a euphemism, the protesters say, for a low-security prison — is one of two family detainment facilities in Texas, and the largest in the U.S.
"There's one issue with calling them residential facilities: They're locked up. They can't leave," said Bethany Carson, immigration policy researcher and organizer for Grassroots Leadership.