Last summer tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants, many of them families from Central America, crossed into Texas from the Rio Grande. The US government spent millions of dollars to create two massive detention centers to house immigrant women and children in the hope of dissuading further arrivals.Even as new arrivals flow into the country and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement prepares to expand the centers to cope with the fresh influx, questions are being raised about the usefulness of the strategy and the centers are facing political and legal challenges that could see them forced to close. 33 senators and as many as 130 Democrats in the House of Representatives have called for family detention to be stopped, while a Californian federal judge has ruled that the centers violate a court settlement from 18 years ago that prevents immigrant minors being held in such facilities.
“We are moving in the direction of closing these centers down,” says Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services executive director Jonathan Ryan. Last year the Department of Homeland Security claimed that the centers were needed to counter immigrant beliefs that new arrivals would immediately be granted permission to stay in the United States; this claim was questioned by the judge behind the ruling, Dolly Gee, in April.
Almost 17,000 new immigrant families have been apprehended at the US border in the first seven months of the current fiscal year.