Life in immigration limbo

July 1, 2008 4:48:15 PM PDT
Scenes of federal agents raiding businesses on the hunt for undocumented immigrants and the employers who hire them have become a common sight in Houston. So where do these undocumented immigrants go when they're arrested? Before being sent out of the country, many of them are taken to a detention center in north Houston. For nearly three hours Thursday, we walked around the place where illegal immigrants are kept once they're caught.

Just last month, more than 15,000 passed through the facility and we got a sense of what life inside immigration limbo is like.

The building wrapped in razor wire, surrounded by high walls means the end of a dream for thousands.

"This is our receiving and discharge area," said warden David Price during our tour. "All detainees come through this door here."

"My parents always told me that we were legal here," said Dhanasharee Gupte, who came to the U.S. from India when she was 12. "I think I'm American. I don't think I'm Indian at all."

However, the United States government considers the 22-year-old illegal.

"My parents tried to obtain legal documents to stay in this country, but in 1999, my mom took voluntary departure when I was 14 years old. We never left."

In many ways, the college student is not typical of most of the detainees at the more than 900-bed facility. The majority of them are men and come from a Latin-American country.

David Price is the warden. He considers the facility the best of his 34-year career.

"It's clean," he said. "We don't have very much trouble, as far as detainee trouble. We have a good, experienced officer pool."

On average, detainees stay here for about a month and the mission in keeping them there is different than other detention facilities. Behind the swinging gates and locks, the primary objective is preparing people for deportation, not punishment.

"Everyone get privileges to come to the library at least once a day," said Price.

Along with recreation, detainees get full access to medical care, but also far from the American dream that attracted so many who are a step away from deportation.

Gupte was brought the facility after serving two days in jail for theft. She hopes to hear a decision regarding her status in the next few weeks.

The cost to house a detainee is about $90 a day. There are two facilities like it in the Houston area.

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