EL PASO, Texas - They called it "a deportation machine."
A group of immigration attorneys are calling for changes at the facility where about 600 Central American women and children are being detained. The attorneys are all part of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Artesia Pro Bono Project.
They've spent the past couple of weeks in Artesia volunteering their time to help these immigrants through the process and have observed what they call inhumane conditions.
"We heard that there was this deportation machine basically that had been set up," said Julie Braker, an attorney from Portland, who has visited several immigration facilities. "This has been the worst detention facility I have seen in terms of inhumane conditions and in terms of due process issues. Almost every single child I saw there was sick, they had lost weight, they had had severe diarrhea, they had been vomiting, they had the flu, they had the cough and some of these kids were infants."
Braker added: "We also heard a lot of stories about guards trying to intimidate people into signing deportation orders and discouraging people from pursuing legitimate claims as refugees."
"It's hard to express the amount of fear that these women and children have," said Laura Lunn, an immigration attorney, who is also from Portland. "It's alarming! The rapid flow of the cases there and the lack of access to legal counsel is really impeding the due process of these women. We think there is are alternatives to detaining these women and children because so many have family in the United States already."
"The only thing they're technically being held for is in order to give the government time to arrange their deportation," added Pamela Munoz, president of the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center board of directors. "The fact that we're using expedited removal process to accelerate this deportation machine is in direct conflict with our obligations under international law and our own refugee act. I would equate the situation in Artesia right now in many ways to the situation at Guantanamo in the sense that both facilities are being used to detain people who have not had criminal charges filed against them."
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said in a statement that since the Artesia facility opened in late June, 280 individuals have been deported. They also stated ICE ensures its facilities operate in an open environment, which includes access to legal counsel, and that ICE takes the health of those in their care very seriously providing on-site medical staff 24 hours a day.
The attorneys with the Artesia Pro Bono Project are asking for help from other attorneys and translators. If you would like to help contact the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center at (915) 544-5126.