DILLEY – KSAT 12 reporter Tiffany Huertas toured Immigration and Customs Enforcement's South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas on Thursday.
ICE officials prohibited members of the media from recording audio or video while inside the facility on Thursday. Officials also prohibited members of the media from talking to families staying at the residential center.
After leaving the residential center, Tiffany journaled her experience:
A young girl smiles as she eats lunch in the cafeteria. Her mother sitting next to her on the table, talking to another mother and child.
At this time, a video plays in different languages on the wall about “know your rights.”
It’s lunchtime at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas.
Both women speak in Spanish. They eat their meal surrounded by several other mothers and children doing the same in the cafeteria.
As soon as you walk into the cafeteria, we see people scan their IDs.
“Every resident gets an ID card that has their funds loaded to it. It has some of their case information and also it can be used when they go to the dining facilities," Daniel Bible, ICE Field Office Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations San Antonio said. "When they go through, they swipe their cards that way we can keep an account, making sure people get an opportunity to eat."
The facility cafeteria opens from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. providing three meals a day with food tailored for the population, according to information provided by ICE.
On Thursday, ICE officials allowed a group of members of the media to tour the family detention center.
“We wanted to be transparent and show you what our facility looks like,” Bible said.
The building, which sits on 55 acres, first opened in 2014 and was at full occupancy by early 2015.
“We have approximately 1,500 people in custody, 1,400 and about 10 percent of that population are families that have been reunited,” Bible said.
At the cafeteria, they don’t serve pork, but they have other foods, including chicken, beans, rice, corn tortillas, salad, vegetables and dessert.
ICE contract officer representative Michael Sheridan led the tour. He said they have around 15 to 20 people supporting this dining center. This includes clean up, supervisors and serving line staff.
It cost $156 million annually to operate this facility in Dilley, according to Sheridan.
Around the compound, we watched as mothers were pushing small children in strollers and others making line to pick up their child from school.
Sheridan told us they normally get one to two busloads with total of 110 people to the facility.
As soon as someone comes to the facility, they are checked by medical personal, according to Sheridan.
He explained women and girls ages 10 and older are given pregnancy tests upon arrival.
He mentioned everyone gets physicals, immunizations and dental work at this site.
“The facility was established as a facility to bring in people that have crossed the border illegally, right? So these families have crossed over places other than the port of entry, and they come here and this was the place that they are going to supposedly go through their asylum processing and everything and get to a determination on whether or not their case was -- they were granted asylum -- or they were to be removed. Through some court decisions. that time frame has been reduced, so we maintain people for an average of 20 days now. Fifteen and a half days is the average length of stay here, but generally no longer than 20 days,” Bible said.
Sheridan explains they have medical staff on site, but they also have relationships with neighboring hospitals.
Officials make it clear there are no fathers or criminals in this center.
We continue the tour and head to the Main Medical Facility. They have several practitioners to provide services, according to ICE officials.
As we walked by one of the rooms, women were sitting inside the dental area and another woman was getting her teeth worked on.
According to Sheridan, everyone has a medical digital record where their information is kept.
We also passed by a hair salon where two stylists were inside, organizing.
At a grocery-style trailer, people can purchase items such as soda, chips, and soup with money provided through a sponsor or family.
We continued walking through the facility and visited a library where they have hundreds of books. Detainees can also use the computer and check their email and internet, but cannot access social media sites. We saw children playing video games on the computer.
During the tour, we passed through a trailer where they have family and legal visits, a chapel where they offer hundreds of services a month for all religions and then we made our way to the classroom trailers.
According to ICE officials, teachers are bilingual and children are taught the Texas curriculum. All school-age children will receive instruction from state-licensed teachers according to ICE information.
When we stepped into a kinder classroom, it was colorful. It had computers and two smart boards.
Inside a classroom for older children, a teacher who has been working here for more than two years said when children come here, they have a great capacity to adapt and she speaks in English and Spanish.
When we went to a housing complex, we passed by telephone rooms, recreational rooms and a theater room.
Small children watched a movie and ate popcorn while a movie played.
Officials said mothers who need to speak with legal services can bring their children here, where they will be supervised. There are about 48 supervisors, according to Sheridan.
They conduct asylum interviews in another facility. Sheridan said they have 12 asylum officers, two supervisory asylum officers and four support staff members.
Another trailer is focused on the courts and everything is via video conference. There are no judges here. Some of the judges are in Port Isabel, according to Sheridan. An example of why they would come here is to request re-interview for asylum claims.
The final trailer was where they have legal visitations.
Overall, families moved around the facility freely while the tour was being conducted.
The facility can house up to 2,400 individuals on the property.