Human Rights First Tours Dilley Detention Center for Immigrant Mothers and Children
The Dilley Family Residential Center is now open in South Texas and will soon house up to 2,400 immigrant mothers and children who came to the United States seeking refuge. This week we went on a guided tour of the detention facility along with other attorneys from nonprofit organizations.
The women and children detained in this facility fled horrific violence and persecution in their home countries. Many of them qualify for asylum under U.S. immigration law. The majority are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and crossed the border only to be transported to this facility in a remote area of South Texas.
Dilley is a small town of fewer than 4,000 people. San Antonio, the closest major city, is over an hour drive away, making it difficult for these mothers and children to secure legal representation. So far, the attorneys servicing Dilley are from San Antonio-based nonprofit organizations, and make the drive out to the detention center multiple times a week.
On our supervised tour we saw the intake room, medical clinic, classrooms, and library. We also went inside the two-family unit housing structures where mothers are living with their children. To date, there are just under 250 detainees on site. Half are children under age 18. School-aged children attend classes in the detention center.
While these structures adequately serve the current number of detainees, it’s premature to comment on what the conditions at Dilley will be like. In fact, the current detainees only make up one tenth of the population that will eventually be housed at Dilley once construction is completed. It will be the largest family detention facility in the United States.
We had a chance to speak with some of the detained mothers. All acknowledged experiencing horrible violence and trauma in their home countries. We discovered that some only speak Central American indigenous languages, like Mam or Quiche, and don’t speak or understand Spanish. While some detention center staffers speak Spanish, there are no indigenous language speakers on staff. It’s been challenging to connect them to telephonic interpreters.
We at Human Rights First are very concerned that the U.S. government continues to prioritize the detention of mothers and children who cross the southern border. These are vulnerable individuals who have suffered great trauma and pose no flight risk.
Family detention is an enormous cost to U.S. taxpayers. From what we saw on the tour, an incredible amount of money is going into building, staffing, and operating this facility. Dilley is run by a for-profit prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which has a contract with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement. There are reasonable alternatives to detaining immigrants who pose no security risk. These alternatives can cost as low as $7 to $17 a day, where as the cost of family detention costs $164 per person per day on average. The Dilley facility has been estimated to cost nearly $300 per person per day.
This policy of detaining mothers and children is not consistent with our nation’s ideals. But the government continues to contract out large sums of taxpayer money to build and operate prison-like facilities in remote locations where detainees have limited access to legal representation, in turn threatening their right to due process under the law. We urge the U.S. government to release the mothers and children detained at Dilley and stop the build-up of this facility.