Children in Jail: What It’s Like for Immigrants Held at Artesia Center

Written by on August 6, 2014 in Enforcement, Humanitarian Protection with 11 Comments

8-6-2014 photoBy Megan Jordi, legal director at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.

The rule of law is only a mirage in the remote, dusty town of Artesia, New Mexico, where the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is holding more than 600 Honduran, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan women and children. The children in the 278 families range from babies to teenagers. Virtually overnight, DHS turned part of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) into an immigration jail to house the families crossing the U.S. border from Central America.

New Mexico Immigrant Law Center staff was able to view the Artesia facility and talk to women and children during a recent tour for non-governmental organizations and in subsequent individual interviews.  We were shocked by what we’ve learned.

We talked to women as they held babies in their arms or as their children listened and played nearby. These same women go to their credible fear interviews with their children in tow. Traumatized children, especially after a harrowing journey from Central America, should never have to hear their mother’s reports of the violence that caused them to flee.

Mothers report their children are not getting adequate medical attention or any mental health services for the trauma they experienced at home, in their trips and in the FLETC jail. And they fear being denied access to the few floating cell phones in the jail if their children misbehave.

DHS euphemistically calls these women and children “residents,” but make no mistake, FLETC is a jail. DHS has short-circuited the asylum process, promising quick deportations to send a message to other Central American asylum seekers not to come.

Artesia is 240 miles from Albuquerque, where our office is, and 200 miles from El Paso, Texas. Judges in Arlington, Virginia—1,800 miles away—hold court hearings via videoconference for the families in the Artesia facility.

ICE has provided minimal confidential space for attorneys to meet with potential clients. Officers walked in between the flimsy cubicles where we talked to women and their children, and they used a fax machine a few feet away. Women get little or no notice of when a credible fear interview will be held, sometimes having to go alone even when they have a lawyer. Officials have told them they will be deported, whether they have a lawyer or not. Though asylum claims may be based on government persecution, a Honduran consular official was given open access to FLETC and has told women they will be quickly deported.

Deportations of the women and children before lawyers could begin to provide presentations for them about their rights. The American Immigration Lawyers Association, Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, and other NGOs and private attorneys from New Mexico and far away states are making a valiant attempt to provide know your rights presentations and pro bono representation to the detainees. But it’s an unfair fight when DHS’s clearly announced goal is accelerated proceedings and quick deportations.

ICE—making an all-purpose “national security argument”—has set a policy of no bond or high bond for those who pass a credible fear interview, even if they present no flight risk or risk to public safety. As a result, the women and children face little possibility of release during the whole asylum process. The government cites a reprehensible post-9/11 ruling by Attorney General John Ashcroft that used wholesale and exaggerated national security claims to justify denying bonds to Haitians who arrived by boat as its justification for this policy.

Federal officials argue in affidavits submitted in opposition to bond requests that “[d]etention is especially crucial in instances of mass migration,” claiming that “the likelihood of low or no bond” is one of the reasons the women and children fled to the U.S. But that disingenuous argument ignores the conditions of violence and fear that spurred the flight from Central America.

Jailing babies on the basis of national security is shameful. The women and children at FLETC should be released and given a fair chance to present their asylum cases.

Photo by Yossi Gurvitz.

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  • FriendlyAnonymous

    Sorry. No. These aspiring economic migrants, these unlawful U.S. entrants, should not be rewarded with U.S. immigration benefits. The children found the trip traumatic? That’s due to the parents’ choice to place the children in the stream of a traumatic experience. Back home is traumatic? Well, absent a defensible claim for asylum/ refugee status, the harsh conditions at home are for the home government/ society to remedy. It’s not the U.S. responsibility to altruistically mend every failing country in the world; that’s each respective countries’ job.

    The U.S. should pursue U.S. interests in its foreign policy as much as in its immigration policy.

    – Eliminate “magnets” for the undocumented/ illegals to seek unlawful U.S. sentry.

    – Driving licenses issued by states/ commonwealths/ territories that issue such licenses to the undocumented/ illegals should *not* be valid for federal ID purposes.

    – Build a robust fence/ barrier along the southern border. It’s more humane to keep the undocumented/ illegals out than to let them in and then deport/ remove them.

    – Outside the U.S. set-up processing centers (such as in Ciudad Juarez) to accept and process applications for standard refugee/ asylee status. Get rid of DACA. No Dreamers. BTW – the unaccompanied alien children at the southern border do not technically meet definitions under law for asylum or refugee status; they are *not* immigrants under law. Here’s an interest article that also discusses Special Immigrant Juveniles Status (SIJS):….

    – If a person is missing a passport (e.g., passport destroyed to prevent deportation/ removal from U.S. or other country), that person should not be eligible to apply for *any* U.S. immigration benefit.

    – After a meaningful fence/ barrier is built, and after it shows a meaning reduction in unlawful U.S. entries (e.g., 80%): the best solution for those who are already in the U.S. as undocumented/ illegals is to permit a *temporary* visa program to authorize low-skill jobs. The next-best solution is to permit Green Card (permanent U.S. residence) *without* any form of citizenship eligibility. The benefit of no-citizenship-eligibility includes the ability to deport/ remove an individual for criminal infractions. There should be **no** – zero! – citizenship eligibility. These undocumented/ illegals are law-breakers; that should not be rewarded.

    – As an aside, the visa lottery program of the U.S. Department of State should be closed. As should the unskilled worker Green Card (EB-4) program; we get enough unskilled workers from family-based immigration and the undocumented/ illegals. Enough already.

    – Permit and support lawful immigration to the educated, the skilled, and the high achieving! As to those who are in the U.S. lawfully, who have followed the meat-grinder process to correctly gain U.S. immigration benefits: grant H-1B and L-1 visas liberally; the market *really* does adjust and regulate the streams; these people comprise >5% of the U.S. workforce and deliver much needed STEM expertise. Clear Green Card backlogs now.

    • Senia Sunshine

      Funny how your opinion is stated anonymously, that shows you know your ideas and opinions on the matter are shameful enough to hide your identity. what country did your ancestors harbor from? Lord knows you are not a Native American.

      • FriendlyAnonymous

        Quite the contrary, Senia Sunshine. I am a U.S. citizen. My family has been citizens since the 1890s. Am I have practiced immigration law in the U.S. for 20y.

        I post anonymously in these fora for my own reasons. However, I advocate in my professional and personal arenas.

        Be well.

      • FriendlyAnonymous


        Quite the contrary, Senia Sunshine. I am a U.S. citizen by birth. My family has been citizens since the 1890s; they gained U.S. passports fully lawfully. Before that, my antecedents were from Europe, mainly Spain. I have practiced immigration law in the U.S. for >20y.

        I post anonymously in these fora for my own reasons. However, I advocate with vim in my professional and personal arenas.

        Oh, and, yes, I am a Spanish-is-my-first-language Hispanic. I am a passionate American. My country first.

        I marvel at your pre-judgment on the basis of no information.

  • Catherine Ritlaw

    Theses children are fleeing violence caused by the cartels, which are fueled by OUR USE OF ILLEGAL DRUGS. Our chickens are coming home to roost, these are refugee children and deserve protection.

    • mary

      Please, you can adopt as many as you like but stay out of my pocket, okay? I would prefer my tax dollars go into bettering our own communities.

    • Maggie McGee Bishop

      How about THEIR governments do something about THEIR illegal drug trade that is killing OUR children.

  • Wendy

    To all: Where did your families come from? Were they imprisoned for coming into the United States? I don’t think so. You would not be here if this country had such regulations. So, it is bad that they come over here and the US government spends money on them to survive. Well, the US is in a major financial crisis due to other matters and I really don’t think letting new souls in will make a tremendous impact. Do you know how much people receive in food stamps? Not much! Yes, if you add up all the families here in the US and immigrants using federal money so they will not go hungry, it still won’t even touch the other spending the US does on matters outside our country, like helping with wars that are none of our business. So, I ask you this, is it really necessary to detain families who have arrived from Mexico? Come on, just think about this a bit! Have some compassion. If it were you, I am sure you would feel very different about the situation.

    • mary

      Oh, to be so ignorant of what it costs this country for each one of these children EVERY day. FYI – It’s $152 each for each and every day they are here! Wouldn’t every American love to have that much to support their own children? But, no, our own citizens have to pay out the nose so these people can have education, healthcare, food, clothing, transportation, attorneys, judges and everything else for THEM to thrive. Try going to the HHS government website and you will see they have awarded over $640 BILLION in grants to care for illegal unaccompanied minor children just since December. It they are allowed to stay for the long term, you can triple that amount. So, your argument that it won’t make a “tremendous impact” is bullshit. This isn’t about compassion at all, it’s economic. If our government took every dime we spent on all these people here illegally and deducted the amounts from the aid we sent to their “home” countries, I think their home countries would stop the emigration here real quick.

    • Maggie McGee Bishop

      Seriously? Don’t you think that adding millions of illegals had increased food and other commodity prices by placing undue demand on our agricultural resources? Don’t you think non-paying medical patients are increasing your insurance costs? Don’t you think uninsured and unlicensed drivers are increasing your auto insurance costs? Don’t you think illegals that go to food banks for the poor are spreading out the little resources they have a little too thin, causing American families to get less? My family came from Ireland over a hundred years ago. My grandfather almost immediately signed up for the service to fight in WWI. Then he got a job as a long shore man and worked really hard all his life. They didn’t expect to come here and get trauma treatment.

  • Maggie McGee Bishop

    Their parents are the ones who traumatized them by deciding to take this long trip and assuming they’d be able to sneak into our country. Now they have the audacity to complain their kids aren’t getting mental health. If an American mother took her child across country, say, with no money, and traumatized them their child would be swept away by the division of Youth and Family Services and placed in foster care. And why come all the way to America – why not just stop in Mexico and make that their home. There must be plenty of room there since all the Mexicans are here. Let’s start worrying about American children for a change.