They say you can't fight city hall, but it appears a small town can take on the White House.
Tiny Artesia, N.M. has succeeded in its bid to get 420 illegal immigrants transferred out after months of controversy and protests from the mayor and residents of the town of 11,500.
The immigrants, part of the ongoing wave of illegal border crossers that has poured across from Mexico over the last year, had been housed in the facility where Border Patrol agents are trained. On Tuesday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it will shut down the temporary housing at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and move the occupants to a new facility in Dilley, Texas.
"With the opening of the Dilley facility, ICE will have the initial capacity to house up to 480 residents but the ultimate capacity to house up to 2,400 individuals," said Acting ICE Director Thomas Winkowski in a statement. "These facilities help ensure timely and effective removals that comply with our legal and international obligations, while deterring others from taking the dangerous journey and illegally crossing into the United States."
ICE stopped taking new admissions to the Artesia location on Nov. 7 for the ultimate closure by the end of December.
"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," Winkowski said.
"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."
As with other cities forced by the federal government to take in the primarily Central American illegal immigrants over the past year, Artesia experienced the polarizing tension. In August hundreds of protesters on both sides of the issue demonstrated outside FLETC.
"They need to be deported back home. This is not a daycare center," said Debbie Shearman to KOB News at the time of the demonstration. "It's a training center for border patrol agents who detain these people and send them back home."
Artesia Mayor Phillip Burch opposed the housing of the immigrants at FLETC from the get-go because it served as a distraction to the facility’s mission which is to train federal agents.
“My opposition had nothing to do with being for or against immigration, it was about the distraction it had on our city,” Burch said.
Dilley Mayor Mary Ann Obregon, a Spanish teacher at the local high school, could not be reached for comment.
The South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley is the fourth facility the Department of Homeland Security has used to increase its capacity to detain and expedite the removal of adults with children who illegally crossed the Southwest border. ICE continues to use a newly modified residential center in Karnes City, Texas, and a long-standing facility in Leesport, Pennsylvania, to house adults with children.
Geographically, Dilley, with a population of just over 900 residents in Frio County, may be more advantageous for ICE due to its proximity to the highest migrant traffic areas. It sits on Interstate 35, some 74 miles south of San Antonio in the Border Patrol’s Laredo Sector.
In Fiscal Year 2014, the Laredo Sector saw a 113 percent increase in apprehensions of family units from 1,688 in 2013 to 3,591 in 2014. The adjacent Rio Grande Valley Sector wasthe busiest of all Border Patrol sectors in 2014, when agents apprehended 49,959 unaccompanied children, a 132 percent increase over the prior year.
Immigrant rights advocates took exception to the claim that the ICE residential centers for adults with children are an effective and humane alternative to maintain family unity as families await the outcome of immigration hearings or return to their home countries.
Silky Shah, co-director of the Detention Watch Network said in a press release that his organization already has mounting concerns over the newly built Dilley detention center.
“Additionally troubling is the fact that ICE will contract with the notorious Corrections Corporation of America, a company known for its human rights violations at countless facilities, including the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, which stopped holding families after reports of the appalling treatment and conditions for children in custody,” Shah contended in a press release.