Life in a New Mexico detention center a challenge for mothers and children

BY Kathleen McCleery  August 25, 2014 at 5:56 PM EST

ARTESIA, N.M. -– This hot, dry, dusty town just 70 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border has been a temporary home to some of the recent influx of families that have entered the U.S. illegally.

The Artesia Temporary Facility for Adults with Children is a federal law enforcement training facility run by the Department of Homeland Security. Now the federal government has converted three former barracks to house the nearly 700 mothers and children under the age of 17.

Most of the women and children are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They were captured after crossing the border into Texas and bussed here. Officials say most will be sent home.

In the meantime, they are given beds, clean clothes and three meals a day. The playrooms are stocked with toys and coloring books.

But Laura Lichter says that conditions in the facility aren’t always so agreeable. A Denver attorney doing pro bono work for some of the detained families, Lichter spends long days inside the secure center working with mothers. She said that many of her clients have spoken to her about issues of disrespect and name-calling from the agents on duty.

“There’s a reason why we don’t have family detention centers anymore,” Lichter said. “You don’t put mothers and kids in jail. You can’t jail families and not have fundamental problems.”

Hear more from Lichter on Monday’s PBS NewsHour and watch an excerpt of her interview where she talks about some of the conditions for the families, above.

Hear more voices from the immigration debate. PBS NewsHour has invited an immigration judge, a border patrol officer and an immigration lawyer to give a personal account from their front-seat view of the clash over the recent influx of migrants from Central America. On Tuesday’s program, we hear from an Arizona rancher. Watch these conversations in the playlist below: