ARTESIA – A detention center being opened in southeastern New Mexico to help house the surge in women and children caught crossing illegally into Texas from Central America could be in place for a year or more, according to a mayor briefed by federal officials.
Artesia Mayor Phillip Burch told The Associated Press on Thursday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials recently informed him of their plans to house the families at a border training facility that has been largely dormant for six years.
Around 700 immigrants will be housed at Artesia’s Federal Law Enforcement Training Center for an average of 30 days each. Burch said officials told him it will likely be in operation for six months to a year, although he thinks the detention center could stay open longer than that “unless the policy in Washington changes.”
Last week, the Obama administration announced plans to open the Artesia center and other temporary sites for families due to a surge in women and children fleeing gang violence and poverty in Central America.
Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 52,000 immigrant children crossing the border alone since October.
The Artesia center will house women and children.
News of the detention center opening in Artesia has stirred up fears and anger among some residents who worry about possible illnesses, a lack of resources and dramatic changes to this small, close-knit city in the middle of oil and gas country. Some said the detention center will serve as encouragement for more immigrants to come.
“I don’t know if they are bringing hungry people or dopers,” Cecil Laman, 89. “But what this creates is that they will tell their families to bring more in.”
Others said the federal government was going about the crisis all wrong and should be quickly sending immigrants back to their countries of origin.
“These kids didn’t get here by themselves. They were brought here by adults,” said Collier Allan, 62, who lives near the training center. “What we should do is take them to the Air Force base, put them on a plane escorted by two fighter jets and send them back, and come back for the next group.”
Burch said some area residents were worried about unvaccinated children and some immigrants possibly trying to escape. But he said ICE doctors plan to evaluate all immigrants upon entry, then again 48 hours later to ease concerns over diseases.
Asked if he thought a new prison was opening up in the city, Burch said “to some degree.”
“But the people here are women and children ages infant to 17. They are not hardened criminals,” he said.
Associated Press writer Russell Contreras in Albuquerque contributed to this report.