Inside Texas' New Family-Friendly Detention Center for the Undocumented

The new 532-bed building is the first facility built with families in mind.

July 31, 2014, 4:46 PM

— -- A model detention facility for moms with children crossing the border illegally is scheduled to open Friday.

The brand new facility in Karnes, Texas, is designed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be family friendly with drawings on the walls, toy rooms and classrooms for children, and full medical facilities.

The 532-bed building, at a cost of $140 per day per person is the third ICE facility to house mothers with children, but the first specifically modified with their needs as a consideration.

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While residents will not be free to leave, they are free to roam the grounds, visit the library, call family with pre-paid phone cards, play outdoors, use computers -- excluding accessing Facebook and Twitter -- and participate in soccer matches, religious concerts and church services.

The average stay is 23 days, according to ICE, and while it is still a detention center, those inside will not be called detainees, but residents. The guards are relabeled “resident assistants,” and the cells are “family suites” that can accommodate up to eight people.

In an ICE statement on the pending opening, officials said it “was done in order to expand the agency’s capacity to house adults with children who have been apprehended at the border and placed into expedited removal proceedings.”

Lawyers will be provided to the “residents” pro bono and the facility even has an immigration courtroom where judges will decide asylum cases via videoconference. There will also be medical professionals, including dentists and mental health specialists, on scene 24 hours a day.

The residents will be given six sets of civilian clothes, three meals a day, and access to snacks 24 hours a day, officials said.

“ICE's family detention facilities are an effective and humane alternative to maintain family unity as families await the outcome of immigration hearings or return to their home countries,” the statement read.

"I have had personal interest in making sure that this facility meets all the legal requirements that are under any settlement, any other family detention center, and I'm completely confident that we are meeting the standards and even exceeding those standards," said Enrique Lucero, field office director for ICE.

Several years ago a lawsuit accused a similar faculty to be too similar to a prison, making this facility the first outfitted in accordance to civil detention standards and reforms.

The outstanding question as the facility is set to open Friday is how long the facility can remain operational as Congress prepares to go on recess without addressing the border supplemental request for funds.

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