This weekend El Salvador's foreign minister, Francisco Laínez, is in southern Texas, visiting facilities where Salvadorans are being detained for being in the US illegally. On Friday, April 13, the foreign minister visited the Willacy County Detention Center in Raymondville, Texas to "see first hand" the conditions in which Salvadorans are being held, and to emphasize the risks to Salvadorans who try to enter the US illegally.
The Willacy County Detention Center was built in the first half of 2006 to house 2000 undocumented immigrants prior to their being deported from the US. According to El Diario del Hoy, the center currently holds 1129 Salvadorans including 338 women. The Democracy Now website has an interview with an immigration lawyer who represents clients held in the facility and describes the conditions there.
Head of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff described the reason for the growing number of Salvadoran detainees:
[T]here's one population, those people who migrate from El Salvador, that we are limited in our ability to address. And that's because of a 20-year-old court order that restricts our ability to remove people from El Salvador on an expedited basis because of conditions that existed 20 years ago when there was a civil war.
We are currently detaining all El Salvadorians, or virtually all of them, because we now have enough beds, and we've had enough deterrent effect to significantly reduce the total number of non-Mexicans. But we're still hamstrung in our ability to remove those El Salvadorians on an expeditious basis. It still takes us much more time to remove them because of these legal restrictions.
Before the additional detention facilities like the one at Willacy were built, there was nowhere to keep Salvadorans apprehended crossing the border illegally, and they were simply given a paper notifying them of the date to report for their deportation hearing. Most never showed up.
There were 14,900 Salvadorans deported from the US in 2006, double the number from 2005.