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NIJC Calls for Government to Halt Plans for New Private Texas Detention Center

Statement by NIJC Director of Policy Royce Bernstein Murray

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center condemns the Obama administration’s announcement today that it will open an enormous family detention center in Dilley, Texas. Incarcerating mothers and children who flee violence and persecution is a shameful response to the humanitarian crisis in Central America. Locking them up in remote detention centers where they are isolated from access to lawyers and mental health services violates American values of due process and family welfare.

When the Dilley detention center opens in November, it is expected to detain 480 mothers and children, with plans to expand to 2,400 beds by next spring. When added to the existing bed space at three other family detention facilities, the Department of Homeland Security will have approximately 3,800 mothers and children in detention. The new detention center at Dilley will be run by the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit private prison company that ran the family detention facility in Hutto, Texas, that was shut down in 2009 following litigation over human rights abuses. Today’s announcement marks a reckless reversal of the administration’s earlier policy of detaining migrant families only as a last resort.

The rapid expansion of the family detention system ignores admonitions by legal service providers, mental health workers, and anti-domestic violence advocates that detaining mothers and children, including many who have survived gender-based violence, is inhumane. At other remote family detention centers in Artesia, New Mexico, and Karnes County, Texas, detainees have limited access to counsel, making it nearly impossible to pursue protection claims under U.S. law. According to the Syracuse University Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, in 2010 only 11 percent of unrepresented asylum seekers were granted asylum. The odds of being granted asylum rose to 54 percent with an attorney.

The growth of the family detention industry also comes at a steep price to taxpayers: it costs $298 per family detainee per day, compared to alternative forms of custody, such as release on supervision or ankle bracelets, which cost as little as 70 cents to $17 per day. Despite a sharp drop-off in the numbers of Central Americans reaching the United States to seek refuge, the Obama administration continues to spend billions of dollars to expand a private prison infrastructure that will have long-term economic ramifications for Americans.

NIJC implores President Obama to halt the construction of the Dilley detention center, stop detaining mothers and children who are fleeing violence, and uphold the United States’ long tradition of providing refuge and due process protections to people fleeing persecution.