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Crossing the Line: New immigrants come to Karnes County Residential Center
PASCALLE BIPPERT —
Vehicles fill the parking lot of the Karnes County Residential Center Aug. 1, as the staff and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel await the arrival of undocumented immigrants from Central and South America. As many as 532 will be housed in the former male-only detention center, now revamped to house women and children.
New classrooms. New desks. New clothes on hangers. New blankets on beds.
All this awaited the first wave of women and children arriving Aug. 1 at the newly revamped Karnes County Residential Center.
“We received the first families at 7:30 this morning,” said Karnes County Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva.
He had increased the visible presence of law-enforcement personnel in the vicinity of the former detention center, geared toward housing male-only immigrant detainees, in the event protestors arrived.
But there were none last Friday.
“Just media,” Villanueva said. “No protestors, just a smooth transition.”
By Friday, Aug. 8, he expects the facility will accept up to 532 individuals -- families with children -- with two deliveries scheduled daily through Friday.
These are not the undocumented immigrants that seem always to have been part of the Lone Star State’s history, people leaving Mexico to seek opportunity in the United States.
“The people from Mexico kind of stay in Texas and along the border,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, during a visit to Floresville July 21. Instead, he said, they are from Central America, part of a new wave of immigrants. Many are women and children, according to various reports, fleeing economic hardship and other situations in their home countries.
Cuellar thinks the United States, Mexico, and Central America will work together on a long-term solution.
Meanwhile, the immigrants arrive in droves on the U.S.-Mexico border, seeking permission to remain in America. While they await a hearing before a judge, they are housed -- temporarily -- in facilities such as the one in Karnes County.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), this family residential facility helps “maintain family unity as families await the outcome of immigration hearings or return to their home countries.” The open environment includes “... play rooms, social workers, regularly re-stocked refrigerators, classrooms with state-certified teachers, and bilingual teachers.”
And local communities continue to incur costs for personnel, travel, and overtime to deal with the numbers of immigrants, as well as costs related to combating illegal immigration and drug smuggling, and humanitarian efforts for the women and children seeking refuge.
Cuellar requested reimbursement for such costs, writing to the House Appropriations Committee in late July. The committee responded by introducing legislation to address the humanitarian crisis at the southern border. Congress recessed without approving this, however.
Meanwhile, women and children continue to arrive at the facility in Karnes County, and other such centers in the United States.
According to www.ice.gov, those housed at the facility:
•Have freedom of movement throughout the facility from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
•Have access to three meals per day; the cafeteria is open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Snacks are available and can also be purchased from the commissary.
•Can receive visitors seven days per week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
•Can watch cable television in each 8-person suite
•Can enjoy daily recreation activities and resources, which include exercise equipment, soccer field, volleyball court, and basketball court
•Have access to a computer lab with Internet access and email services.
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