EL PASO, Texas (AP) – A lawyer helping Central American immigrants housed at a temporary center in southern New Mexico compared the legal limbo of immigrants there to those at a U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Attorney Pamela Muñoz said at a news conference that like prisoners at Guantanamo, the immigrants at the center in Artesia, New Mexico, are in a legal limbo, without formal charges and without due process, the El Paso Times reported Saturday. Guantanamo has housed prisoners allegedly connected with al-Qaida and other groups since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.
Leticia Zamarripa, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees the detention center in Artesia, said the facility and other similar ones operate in an open environment, which includes play rooms, social workers and access to legal counsel.
Muñoz and other advocates at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso alleged that the women and children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are being fast-tracked out of the United States under the guise that they pose threats to national security. The facility is about 200 miles northeast of El Paso.
“Immigration judges are holding hearings remotely for some of the petitioners through videoconferencing on very small screens,” Muñoz said. “The women don’t have access to translators, and their applications require that their police reports and other documents be translated into English. Some of them are given bonds that are unreasonably high – $20,000 and $30,000, for example.”
Muñoz and another lawyer, Julie Braker, described conditions at the center as chaotic and lacking privacy for the lawyers to consult with clients.
Braker said the lawyers have voiced complaints to the facility managers, “but we’ve encountered a lot of resistance from the officials there to change anything.”
Zamarripa said in a statement the facility and others like it “are an effective and humane alternative to maintain family unity as families await the outcome of immigration hearings or return to their home countries.”
“The Artesia Family Residential Center remains a critical piece in the government’s response to the unprecedented influx of adults with children arriving at our southern border,” according to the statement. “The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center campus in southeastern New Mexico was selected as a temporary facility because it offers a more appropriate environment for the care and custody of adults with children, and is cost-effective.”
Since the Artesia center opened June 27, about 280 people have been repatriated to their countries. Officials said the New Mexico center housed 532 people as of Thursday. The immigrants in Artesia came from Hidalgo County in South Texas.
The immigrants are part of the more than 57,000 unaccompanied children who have come to the U.S. in the last few months.