By Julia Edwards
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials on Tuesday announced plans to open a detention facility to house migrant Central American women and children which will be run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a company that has been criticized by civil rights groups for conditions at other facilities it operates.
The new facility, to be built in Dilley, Texas, southwest of San Antonio, will be the fourth facility designed to hold apprehended Central Americans awaiting immigration court hearings as U.S. officials move to stem the surge of immigrants who have recently crossed the southwest U.S. border.
The American Civil Liberties Union won a settlement in 2007 on behalf of children detained at CCA's T. Don Hutto Residential Center, also in Texas, which the rights group said had prison-like conditions. The ACLU also documented sexual abuse of women in the same facility in 2011.
A spokesman for CCA, Steven Owen, said the company has adapted to new rules and regulations that have come as a result of such lawsuits and investigations.
"We've always been committed to providing safe, humane, secure environments that meet or exceed the standards of our government partner," Owen said.
Joanne Lin, legislative counsel for the ACLU, said it was "bitterly ironic" that CCA would be running the new facility in Dilley.
The center will open in early November and eventually be equipped to hold 2,400 people, according to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), making it vastly larger than the three other facilities of its kind, which currently hold approximately 1,300 people collectively.
At full capacity, the center will cost $298 per resident per day, the agency estimates.
The expansion comes as the number of migrants entering the United States from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is on the decline from earlier in the year, but is still overwhelming the capacity of the existing facilities built to hold families until their immigration court proceedings.
More than 66,000 parents traveling with their children crossed the southwest U.S. border in the 11 months ended Aug. 31, up from 12,908 over the same period the previous year.
President Barack Obama said he would deport the newly arrived migrants as quickly as possible to deter others from following.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials have said detaining migrants in facilities such as the one planned for Dilley ensures that they will show up to their court proceedings rather than remaining in the country undetected.
Refugee advocates decry the detainment of the immigrants, many of whom they say have strong cases for asylum.
"People seeking protection are being put in conditions we know are damaging," said Michelle Brané, director of the Women's Refugee Commission's migrant rights and justice program.
In a statement, ICE said the new facility would "operate in an open environment, which includes medical care, play rooms, social workers, educational services, and access to legal counsel."
(Reporting by Julia Edwards)