SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has reversed course on plans to open a new immigration detention center for families in Texas.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Homeland Security agency that handles detention and deportation, received four bids in Texas but then suddenly scrapped the idea.
Instead, a deal was worked out to move the only other family detention center in the country — located in Leesport, Penn. — to a new building, with annual rent going up from $300,000 to $1 million.
Spokesmen with ICE in Houston and Dallas refused several interview requests to explain the agency’s sudden change of plans.
Immigrant advocates have long called for an end to family detention. They called ICE’s move a partial victory to their cause.
“It is bittersweet," said Lisa Graybill, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas, which is based in Austin.
“I am glad that they’re not going to be detaining children here in Texas but I wish they weren’t detaining children at all,” Graybill added.
Some backers of stricter immigration policies say the issue keeps getting mired in politics. One detention center won’t make much of a difference — but keeping illegal immigrants out in the first place will, said Maria Martinez, executive director of the Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas.
“Whether they decide to build it or not, I think they would do much better to enforce borders and not have to build facilities such as this,” said Martinez of Houston, whose organization comprises several like-minded groups across Texas.
There used to operate another family detention center in Taylor, Texas, near Austin. But ICE stopped taking children there after public outcry and has kept it open as a female-only facility.
The ACLU is now suing Homeland Security for alleged sexual abuse of female immigrant detainees at that center and others across the country.