ARTESIA, N.M. (AP) – The majority of an estimated 1,200 Central American immigrants held at a southeastern New Mexico detention center over the last six months have been released, authorities said Monday.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said more than two-thirds of the immigrants were released before the Artesia facility closed last week, the Albuquerque Journal reported (http://bit.ly/16NlYOq ).
Those more than 800 people face follow-up court appointments before an immigration judge. An additional 370 immigrants were deported, and 15 remaining people will be relocated to a new family detention center in Karnes, Texas, ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa said.
American Civil Liberties Union officials in New Mexico say most of the immigrants plan to seek asylum, while some want to argue their cases in court.
Immigration advocates say immigrant families are often fleeing drug or gang violence in Central America and should be released to relatives already in the U.S. rather than being locked up. To qualify for asylum, immigrants must prove "credible fear of persecution" in an interview and before a judge.
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The Obama administration commissioned two new facilities in Texas amid the recent influx of children pouring across the U.S.-Mexico border. A center in Dilley can house up to 2,400 women and children, while the facility in Karnes has room for 1,200.
The administration has said it wants to send the message that immigrants who cross into the U.S. illegally will be deported. The number of families caught at the south Texas border this year spiked to more than 52,000. That is a 600 percent increase, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Stephen Manning, a Portland, Oregon-based attorney, organized more than 330 lawyers to represent detained families pro bono in Artesia last July.