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Lack of Transparency at Artesia Detention Center

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In June of this year, the Department of Homeland Security opened a federal immigration detention center in an isolated New Mexico desert town, Artesia.  This facility was built during this summer in response to the surge of women and children migrants from Central America, in particular Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.  Although it was constructed as a temporary solution to respond to the wave of undocumented immigrants, it appears it may stay open until next summer.

The problem arises in that it appears that the conditions within this detention center are inhumane and the women and children detainees are suffering life-threatening consequences.  The center, made up of trailers, holds around 500 inmates, all women and children.  Artesia is renowned for hearings where judges set high bonds ranging from $20,000 to $30,000 for the purpose of dissuading detainees to drop their asylum claims and accept deportation orders.  These court hearings are typically held via video conference and most of the early cases were heard by judges in Arlington, Virginia.  The isolated area of Artesia does not offer proper legal services; rather there is a pro bono project crew and groups of immigration attorneys fly in each week from around the country.  This pro bono project is a recent development.  Children are suffering from chicken pox outbreaks and schooling was only recently provided in October even though federal law mandates it for detained children.

Recently immigrant rights groups filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to urge the release of documents regarding the use of the expedited removal process against families with children.  These groups allege that there is a lack of transparency as far as the government keeping the detention and deportation of these families secret.  The government has an obligation to provide due process, respecting the legal rights of a person and that does not appear to be happening for these detainees.

In the first weeks of the center’s opening, detainees were provided with only a video presentation about the rights of detainees as their only form of access to legal counsel.  This has changed overtime and now detainees are allowed to meet with their lawyer, which was previously forbidden.  The current structure of Artesia suggests that the government is denying these detainees the right to present their cases.  This is particularly troublesome as the population of women and children within Artesia is among the most sensitive and greatest in need.

There is an urgent necessity for the release of this information about the policies and procedures at Artesia, as there are plans for the construction of new family detention centers in Texas.  The fact that women and children are being returned to life-threatening conditions in their home countries is worrisome enough, but the lack of transparency on our home soil will also cost lives.  The U.S. government’s recent lack of transparency sends a strong message to the world that it is abandoning its obligations to provide detained families with opportunities to reasonably present their claims.

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