KARNES CITY, Texas, July 31 (Reuters) - The United States will open its first detention center specifically for mothers recently arriving from Central America with children, hoping to send a message to would-be migrants there is a place to hold them and they will not simply be released.
The facility in rural Karnes County, about 60 miles (100 km) southeast of San Antonio, was shown to the media on Thursday and will start receiving immigrants on Friday. It can house up to 532 adults and children on the 29-acre (12-hectare) site.
Many of the women who cross the border with small children say they have been told they will simply be released - an idea that is false, Enrique Lucero, a regional director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Division of Enforcement and Removal Operations, told reporters.
"The U.S. border is not open to illegal immigration, and after your immediate detention and due process, there is every likelihood you will be returned to your home country," Lucero said after a tour of the facility.
U.S. officials are trying to cope with a recent influx immigrants from Central America, especially children traveling alone and mothers with small children.
The Karnes County Residential Center contains colorful rows of "suites," that house up to eight people, 24-hour medical facilities, a recreation center and a soccer field. Many of the rooms are brightly colored with cartoon designs, to appeal to the children who will make up many of its residents.
The refurbished facility will house women and children while they wait to see an immigration judge. There are two courtrooms in the facility, as well as rooms where the women can meet with attorneys, either in person or through video conferencing.
The people at the facility, run by the GEO Group, a company that manages prisons, will have an average stay of 23 days, Lucero said. More such facilities are in the works.
"The immigration courts are treating families with children as a priority, so they will be seen prior to anyone else who is in detention," he said.
Officials did not release the cost of renovating the 2-year-old building, which was once used as a detention center for male immigrants, but they said the cost of housing immigrants there will be approximately $140 a day. (Reporting by Jim Forsyth; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Eric Beech)