Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") announced yesterday that it would be closing its controversial family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, by the end of the year. ICE, in claiming that the Artesia facility had always been temporary in nature, announced that a new residential facility in Dilley, Texas, would be operational by December.
The Artesia facility opened in response to a surge in Central American refugee seekers in the spring and summer of 2014. The refugees were women and minor children who have fled their countries due to heavy gang activity resulting in uncontrollable violent crime. These women and children have been housed there since June 2014 while awaiting processing by asylum officers and immigration judges. Initially, the facility was seen as a deportation mill by many people as asylum officers were finding that the migrants did not have a credible fear of returning to their home countries. Immigration Judges from Arlington, Virginia, were also finding that asylum was not warranted, and were also denying bonded release from detention while fighting their cases. This caused the perception of a "deportation mill" to increase as these uneducated women and children were being housed in a facility in the middle of the desert with very little access to legal help. Attorneys, primarily lead by volunteers of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, provided free access to counsel and began representing these refugees in their deportation proceedings.
Access to counsel meant not only that the process would slow down the perceived deportation mill, but would also lead to a dramatic increase in credible fear findings and successful asylum cases. The Immigration Courts recognized a variety of issues with video hearings held from Arlington, and moved the responsibility to the judges here in Denver in October 2014. Since that time, thanks to the volunteer attorneys and more reasonable findings by local judges, every asylum application that has gone to trial has been granted.
ICE's announcement of the closure of the Artesia facility means that any families that are not eligible for bond or alternative to detention, such as ankle monitors or supervised release, will be sent to the new facility in Dilley, Texas.