ARTESIA — Deportations are slated to begin next week from a temporary immigrant detention center as part of the Obama administration’s plan to send a “message” to Central Americans coming illegally over the Southwest border.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson toured the center today and said the waves of migrants — many of them mothers and children fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries — should know “our border is not open to illegal migration.” “Our message to those who are coming here illegally, to those who are contemplating coming here illegally into south Texas, is, ‘we will send you back,’” he said, describing the process at Artesia as “expedited removal” and the detention center as “proof” the U.S. government will deport migrants.
Immigrant advocates say they are concerned that families held at this remote, upstart New Mexico detention center are not getting access to the legal assistance provided to migrants at more formal detention facilities. They worry those migrants who may have valid asylum claims may not get a fair shake in a fast-track system.
“The problem is Obama is trying to fast-track this process, which is one of the biggest travesties,” said Albuquerque immigration attorney Olsi Vrapi. “They are going to create a huge deportation mill. You set up a detention center in the middle of nowhere, and it’s hard to even get there, let alone conduct any meaningful work.”
Tens of thousands of Central Americans have been streaming over the south Texas border with Mexico, the closest crossing point from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where most of the immigrants are coming from and where poverty is rife and brutal criminal gangs operate with impunity.
Nearly 140,000 have arrived in the past nine months alone, and federal authorities have struggled to handle the influx. The Obama administration has tried to counter any impression of leniency by announcing plans for new detention centers and emphasizing rapid deportations.
Two weeks ago immigration authorities converted part of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, where Border Patrol agents receive instruction, to hold as many as 700 women and children from Central America.