Women who are arriving in Texas from Central America with their minor children will now be taken to a holding facility in rural Karnes County which is the first in the country to be specifically configured for that purpose, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The Karnes County Residential Center, which opens Friday to help house the flood of immigrants from Central America, can house up to 532 adults and kids on a 29 acre site in the heart of the Eagle Ford oilfields southeast of San Antonio. In fact, the busses which will deliver the women and children through the bright blue gates and into the facility will drive right past rows of pumping oil derricks.
Enrique Lucero, the Field Office Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says the purpose of the facility is to send a message.
"The use of this facility is sending one very important message to families in Central America considering crossing into the United States. Do not risk your life, do not risk the life of our children. This is a very dangerous journey coming into the U.S."
Lucero said that the existence of the holding center will dispel myths being perpetrated by immigrant smugglers who claim that if an Central American immigrant arrives in the U.S. with a child, they will receive a 'permiso,' which will simply allow them to be released.
"The U.S. border is not open to illegal immigration," he said. "After your arrest and immediate detention, there is every likelihood that you will be returning to your home country.
The Center is brightly painted, with many rooms having cartoon drawings on the walls due to the fact that it will mainly be children who will be there. It has a full cafeteria with three meals served daily, and items ranging from lasagna to Central American favorites like frijoles on the menu.. There are flat screen TVs in all the suites.
There are medical facilities, as well as dental care and eye exams, and a 24 hour acute care center.
The Center also includes a soccer field, a gym, recreational rooms with computer games and 'regularly stocked refrigerators,' and rows of suites which each house eight people.
All newcomers will receive complete medical care, with children getting a complete checkup within 24 hours of arriving, and every adult will get a complete checkup within seven days of arrival.
But Lucero bristled at suggestions that the sight of cafeteria offering three free meals a day, as well as free medical care, might be seen by people in Central America as a 'resort vacation,' and may convince others to make the trip.
"People are not free to leave," he said. "If they are granted a bond, they can be released on bond. If a judge makes a decision that they will be released, ICE will facilitate their release. If they are ordered returned to their home countries, that will also be facilitated."
Officials estimated that it will cost American taxpayers roughly $140 per day per immigrant to house the Central Americans.
Lucero says the average stay will be 23 days.
He points out that there are two full immigration courtrooms in the Center, as well as facilities where the mothers can communicate with their attorneys, both in person and via video hookup.
"The immigration courts are treating families with children as a priority, so they will be treated first among anybody in detention," he said.