Hundreds of Central Americans waited quietly in long lines today on the first day a new immigration policy was implemented to permit rapid processing of requests for political asylum and the immediate detention of those who are rejected.
A small group of protesters standing nearby decried what they labeled a "concentration camp" answer by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to the flood of people illegally crossing the Texas-Mexico border to ask the federal agency for asylum.
"This is the same situation as Germany when Hitler started persecuting the Jews," said Laura Sanchez, one of the 16 protesters.
They were gathered outside the barbed-wire fence of the Port Isabel Processing Service Center, located in a remote area about 25 miles from Brownsville in southernmost Texas.
The INS has set aside 1,100 bed spaces inside the center to jail rejected applicants for political asylum pending their appeals or voluntary departure for their home countries. Tents will be set up if the numbers exceed the available bed spaces in coming days.
About 500 extra INS employees were brought to South Texas for 30-day duty to help in the new program, which became effective after midnight Monday.