DHS Expansion Of Migrant Family Detention System Angers Activists

"Thousands of mothers and children who have suffered humanitarian atrocities will be unlawfully repatriated," one activist says of new detention facility in Dilley, Texas.

Immigrant families are housed at the Artesia Residential Detention Facility inside the Federal Law Enforcement Center in Artesia, New Mexico.

WASHINGTON — Immigration and civil rights activists Tuesday roundly criticized the Obama administration's decision to open a massive new detention facility for undocumented families in a remote Texas town, warning it is inhumane and could curtail immigrants' ability to make effective asylum claims.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday it was opening a new South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, a small town 75 miles outside of San Antonio to house up to 2,400 children and adults in an effort to address the flood of Central American asylum seekers.

The Dilley facility will be the fourth such detention unit used by DHS to, according to a press release, "help ensure more timely and effective removals that comply with our legal and international obligations, while deterring others from taking the dangerous journey and illegally crossing into the United States."

Activists have been harshly critical of the family detention system, arguing that placing them in remote areas like Dilley and Artesia, New Mexico, limits immigrants' access to adequate legal representation and other basic services.

Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, argued in a statement that, "financially and morally, family detention is a failed approach, and this is a step backward."

Similarly, the ACLU's Laura Murphy charged that, "History shows us that imprisoning families limits access to due process, harms the physical and mental health of parents and children, and undermines the family structure by stripping parents of their authority. Rather than incarcerating thousands of mothers and children, DHS should be investing in effective, humane, and far less costly alternatives to detention."

Immigration lawyers said they were particularly frustrated with the decision to use more detention facilities rather than releasing families to relatives in the U.S. or using electronic monitoring bracelets given the problems at existing facilities.

"We're concerned with this decision and the massive facility that will be opened in Dilley, Texas," said Karen Lucas, Legislative Associate at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

"If the Dilley facility implements the same rapid deportation model that we see in Artesia and Karnes [Texas], thousands of mothers and children who have suffered humanitarian atrocities will be unlawfully repatriated," Lucas added.