After the number of families arriving and being apprehended at the southern border surged this year to levels never seen before, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are opening a fourth detention facility for illegal-immigrant families apprehended in the area, and its capacity will dwarf the three existing family detention centers.
As of June 2014, the federal government operated just one family detention facility, in Berks County, Pa., which contained fewer than 500 beds, according to the Detention Watch Network. Two more facilities were added by August, bringing the total number of beds at the family detention facilities to little more than 1,000. The new South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, will initially house 480 people at its expected opening in early November, but a statement from ICE says it will eventually hold 2,400 people, more than the other three combined.
ICE would not say whether the added capacity from the new detention center suggests the federal government expects the number of families illegally crossing the border to increase, as one might suspect. It’s also possible that the added capacity is just a lagged response to the surge of illegally arrived families on the southern border earlier this year, which was coincidental with the surge of unaccompanied minors.
ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok did offer a statement emphasizing that the center will feature ease of access to the detainees and a high quality of living for detainees.
“Individuals can move freely throughout the facility from their living quarters to playrooms, communal areas with snacks and drinks, a library, exercise rooms, visitation rooms, the outdoors, etc. Children will receive instruction from state-certified teachers. The open plan has features that protect the safety and security of detainees and staff, who can move about, unescorted, availing themselves of educational and recreational opportunities, including contact visitation from friends, relatives, attorneys and others,” Rusnok said. “ICE ensures that these residential centers operate in an open environment, which includes medical care, play rooms, social workers, educational services, and access to legal counsel.”
The process regarding ICE’s selection of Dilley has been shrouded in secrecy, according to a report from the San-Antonio Express News before ICE’s announcement. ICE did not seek bids for the center and did not issue any sort of notice that it wanted to build such a facility, according to the paper.
The Dilley center is reportedly going to be run in part by the Corrections Corporation of America, a private-prison operator, which previously operated the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a facility that held families until 2009. The Hutto Center reportedly closed amid lawsuits alleging the mistreatment of children in the facility,. ICE’s website says the Hutto facility provided many services to illegal immigrants including arts-and-crafts classes, flag-football games, monthly birthday parties, and movie nights. ICE made no mention of the Corrections Corporation of America in its statements about the new Dilley center.