The American Civil Liberties Union said Friday that, along with several other legal groups, it has filed a lawsuit against the federal immigrant agency, contending that it is denying due process to Central American women and children who are being detained in the isolated town of Artesia, New Mexico.
The groups want U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to change its policies that quickly deport immigrants without attorneys. The women and children, the suit says, are not getting a fair chance to present their cases for asylum.
They say the Artesia center has turned into a "deportation mill" because of the barriers in place that stop immigrants from having lawyers.
"These mothers and their children have sought refuge in the United States after fleeing for their lives from threats of death and violence in their home countries," said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "U.S. law guarantees them a fair opportunity to seek asylum. Yet, the government's policy violates that basic law and core American values — we do not send people who are seeking asylum back into harm's way. We should not sacrifice fairness for speed in life-or-death situations."
Immigration officials have deported almost 300 Central American women and children, most of them from the Artesia shelter.
Most of the immigrants, part of an influx of people who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in the last year, have been deported to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, according to the Los Angeles Times.
There had been a lull in deportations from the New Mexico center for a few weeks because of a chicken pox quarantine.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes the health, safety and welfare of those in our care seriously and is committed to ensuring that all ICE detainees receive timely and appropriate medical treatment,” said Leticia Zamarripa, a spokeswoman with Department of Homeland Security.
“Once medically cleared, residents who have a final order of removal and a valid travel document may be repatriated,” Zamarripa said.
The Obama administration has been under pressure to shorten the time that children, especially those who are unaccompanied, spend in facilities.
But groups that advocate for more lenient immigration policies want the administration to find ways to allow the children to stay in the country, while those who favor strict enforcement want the immigrants to be processed quickly and deported. Advocates for the immigrants, however, say that expediting the process would rob people of due process.
Besides the ACLU, the other groups that are part of the lawsuit are The American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and National Immigration Law Center.
The conditions under which immigrants are being held in various facilities around the country also have drawn criticism. The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general report raised concerns about too little food, cold temperatures and unsanitary conditions, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Some 1,000 women and children remain in two family detention facilities — 536 in Artesia and 532 in Karnes, the Times said.
More than 60,000 unaccompanied minors have arrived at the border since last October. Many are said to have fled unlivable conditions in their homelands, including threats by street gangs to “join or die,” poverty and the lack of educational opportunities. Tens of thousands of adults also have arrived since October.
They tend to turn themselves into the Border Patrol once they get to the border.