Nearly 300 Central American women and children have been deported from family detention centers that opened in the wake of a recent influx of people illegally crossing the Southwest border.
As of Wednesday evening, 280 women and children had been deported from the Artesia Family Residential Center in Artesia, N.M. Another 14 had been removed from Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas.
Most of them have been repatriated to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
In late July, immigration officials stopped receiving and deporting women and children from the Artesia facility after a chicken pox quarantine. They resumed immigration removal flights to Central America on Aug. 7.
Since then, officials have deported 71 mothers and children from the Artesia center, said Leticia Zamarripa, a spokeswoman with Department of Homeland Security.
Immigration officials halted the intake and removals of detainees at the facility "out of an abundance of caution," after a resident was diagnosed with chicken pox.
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes the health, safety and welfare of those in our care seriously and is committed to ensuring that all ICE detainees receive timely and appropriate medical treatment," Zamarripa said in a prepared statement.
Since the chicken pox case, healthcare personnel have been clearing residents who have immunity to chicken pox, such as those who have already had the disease, or have been fully immunized through vaccination, she said. The health staff is available around the clock for those detained at the facility.
"Once medically cleared, residents who have a final order of removal and a valid travel document may be repatriated," Zamarripa said.
Aside from having to contend with a few cases of chicken pox, the facility and other similar centers have been plagued by other difficulties. For instance, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general report has cited various other problems—inadequate amounts of food, inconsistent temperatures and unsanitary conditions—at various immigration holding facilities for children.
Also, immigration officials have been accused of not allowing the mothers and children due process as the U.S. speeds up the processing of the thousands of single parents with children who have fled Central America and entered the U.S.
Last week, an immigration attorney said his 11-year-old U.S. citizen client was detained at the facility for more than a month. The boy was released Aug. 12, soon after officials realized he was a citizen.
Currently, more than 1,000 women and children remain in the two family detention facilities — 536 in Artesia and 532 in Karnes.
In the last nine months, about 63,000 single parents with at least one child have been apprehended along the Southwest border, mainly in southern Texas. At the same time, about the same numbers of children traveling without a parent have been apprehended along the border.
Most of the migrants are from Central America — mainly Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Although some have tried to enter the U.S. illegally, many have given themselves up to Border Patrol officers upon entering the United States. A combination of factors — including escalating gang violence, poverty and rumors about potential immigration relief — has prompted more people to head north.
The exodus has overwhelmed Homeland Security officials, who have vowed to speed up immigration hearings but have also struggled to house immigrant families and unaccompanied children.