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Administration to close immigration detention center at month's end

The Obama administration is closing a controversial detention center for immigrant mothers and their children who are seeking asylum, much sooner than the government reportedly expected.

At the end of the month, the detainees who are still being housed in the center — located in Artesia, N.M., — will be transferred to one of two facilities in Texas.

The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security, which operates the facility, said that a decrease in migrant traffic allowed them to close the facility.

“ICE opened the temporary facility in Artesia in June as a critical piece of the government’s response to the unprecedented influx of adults with children at the Southwest border. Since then, the numbers of illegal migrants crossing into south Texas has gone down considerably,” said Acting ICE Director Thomas S. Winkowski.

“However, we must be prepared for traditional, seasonal increases in illegal migration. The Dilley facility will provide invaluable surge capacity should apprehensions of adults with children once again surge this spring.”

ICE has stopped intake at the facility and will evaluate remaining detainees to identify those for whom transfer to another facility is appropriate. An ICE spokeswoman said that they would likely be transported to the new facility using the agency’s aircraft.

Some of the detainees being transferred from Artesia will go to the new, 2,400-bed family detention center in Dilley, Texas — despite the fact that the White House has been under congressional pressure to slow the growth of family detention.

In an October letter, the 32 House Democrats asked the administration to address problems in the family detention system before expanding it further. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), one of the lead authors of the letter, said in a statement that the closing of the Artesia center was positive, but failed to address broader problems within the detention system.

“While closing the Artesia facility is a step in the right direction, the fact remains that shifting women and little children from one detention center to another does little to mitigate the serious concerns regarding family detention that Members of Congress, including myself, have voiced to the Administration but have yet to receive a response,” she said.

“The addition of a 2,400 bed facility represents an enormous and troubling expansion of family detention, and it is critically important in the months to follow that we monitor closely whether detainees in the Dilley facility have sufficient access to legal counsel and other necessary resources.”

The Artesia center holds mothers and children who have come to the U.S. without authorization and processes them for either deportation or release. Many are seeking asylum.

From the start, the center was designed as a temporary fix. But in October, the Associated Press reported that a government official said he believed it would likely stay open through next summer.

The center, and the growing practice of family detention, has been a target for criticism.

Advocates and lawmakers have said that the conditions within the center were deplorable, and risked further traumatizing families who were fleeing persecution.

They have also said that women in family detention centers, and the Artesia facility in particular, lacked proper access to lawyers who could help them with their immigration cases.

They alleged broader flaws in the asylum process afforded to the women in the centers, pointing to statistics that indicate that asylum cases originating from the centers are less likely to be successful than in the population at large.

There have also been claims of sexual abuse in both the Artesia facility and another center in Karnes City, Texas. The Karnes facility is one of the two that will house the detainees from Artesia.