ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will visit a temporary immigration detention center in southeastern New Mexico on Friday and meet with officials in Texas about the ongoing humanitarian immigrant crisis, the department said Thursday.
During his visit, officials said Johnson will tour the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, then meet with officials in Weslaco, Texas, about the surge of Central American immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Last month, the Obama administration announced plans to convert the Artesia facility into one of several temporary sites being established to deal with the influx of women and children fleeing gang violence and poverty in Central America.
The three barracks at the Artesia site can hold up to nearly 700 people as they await deportation or seek asylum.
The visit comes amid heightened tensions between residents near temporary sites who fear the immigrants pose health and security threats and immigrant advocates who say the migrants have been victims of abuse and unfair attacks.
In Murrieta, California, last week, for example, a crowd of protesters waving American flags blocked buses carrying women and children who were flown from overwhelmed Texas facilities. Protesters blocked the road, forcing federal officials to take the immigrants elsewhere.
Meanwhile in New Mexico, area residents crowded a town hall meeting over the opening of the Artesia facility and demanded that immigration officials promise to keep migrants from escaping.
Catholic groups, in southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas, however, vowed to provide help and shelter for immigrants.
On Wednesday, tensions shifted to checkpoint protests held by immigrant advocates in New Mexico, California, Arizona, and Texas.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico rallied near the Columbus Port of Entry in an effort to inform border crossers of their Constitutional rights.
Vicki Gaubeca, director of the ACLU-NM Regional Center for Border Rights, told the Deming Headlight (http://goo.gl/I6cddm) that advocates were seeking to prevent potential civil and human rights abuses and answer any questions for those coming into the United States.
We want to support the community and remind them of their constitutional rights," Gaubeca said. "The border region is still part of the United States, and the U.S. Constitution still applies here."
In a statement, Customs and Border Protection said the majority of its employees and officers perform their duties with honor and distinction. "We do not tolerate corruption or abuse within our ranks, and we fully cooperate with any criminal or administrative investigations of alleged misconduct by any of our personnel, on or off-duty," the statement said.
At least one man staged a counter protest Wednesday in Columbus. Tyler Burden drove around the ACLU volunteers in a military-style vehicle, honking his horn in protest
"These organizations go against the Constitution," Burden said. "They stand up for people that shouldn't be here — like illegals, criminals and terrorists."
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