WASHINGTON – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Tuesday that by the end of December it will close its temporary detention center in Artesia – occupied by adults and children who are in the U.S. illegally – and move the detainees to Texas or elsewhere.
About 450 detainees, many of whom arrived at the U.S. border from Central America over the summer, are currently housed at a temporary holding area awaiting deportation or asylum at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, according to ICE.
The federal immigration agency is expanding its detention capacity for adults with children at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley and will move most of the detainees there. The law enforcement training center in Artesia, commonly known as FLETC, will return to normal operations next month.
“With the opening of the Dilley facility, ICE will have the initial capacity to house up to 480 residents but the ultimate capacity to house up to 2,400 individuals,” Acting ICE Director Thomas S. Winkowski said in a statement. “These facilities help ensure 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.”
The South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley is the fourth facility the Department of Homeland Security has used to increase its capacity to detain and expedite the removal of adults with children who illegally crossed the Southwestern border. Winkowski said the number of immigrants crossing illegally into South Texas “has gone down considerably.”
“However, we must be prepared for traditional, seasonal increases in illegal migration,” he said. “The Dilley facility will provide invaluable surge capacity.”
The presence of the temporary detention facility in Artesia, which opened in June, sparked tensions in the eastern New Mexico city as dueling sides urged rapid deportation or a more compassionate approach, including asylum.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said the move to close the temporary FLETC center was expected, but the influx of immigrants highlights the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
“With its announcement today, DHS is keeping its promise that FLETC-Artesia would be used only temporarily to hold immigrant women and children, and I want to thank the people of Artesia for their patience over the last several months,” Udall said. “While FLETC’s role is winding down, we still face a humanitarian crisis in Central America, in which tens of thousands of families have felt they had no choice but to risk everything to seek a better life in the United States, and we have an obligation to continue working in the region.”
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said the dwindling number of border crossers is “good news,” but the problem could flare up again.
“We’ve got to figure out how much of it is cyclical to the seasons,” he said. “I think there is still work to be done in Central America or we’ll face that kind of problem in the future come midsummer of next year.”
Rep. Steve Pearce, a New Mexico Republican who represents Artesia, said the FLETC and the Artesia community fulfilled a “vital role” for the United States and the closure of the detention facility was just a matter of time.
“The Department of Homeland Security’s announced closure of the immigration processing center in Artesia fulfills the department’s commitment to the local community, the state and the nation,” Pearce said.