On the side of a dusty highway 70 miles southwest of San Antonio, more than 500 protesters gathered Saturday in front of the largest immigration detention center in the U.S. and chanted “shut it down” as guards watched from the other side of a barbed wire fence, reports the Texas Tribune. The detention center in Dilley, a town of about 3,600, was built in December 2014 to host up to 2,400 undocumented women and children who are seeking asylum. Protesters from all over the country trekked there to call for an end to family detention. “Many of them are escaping from violence and torture, from abuse at the hands of gangs,” said Sofia Casini, a detention visitation coordinator at Grassroots Leadership, an organization that helped orchestrate the protest. “To be put inside of centers with armed guards, where the kids are yelled at, it’s all a re-traumatization process.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said facilities like the one in Dilley are “an effective and humane alternative for maintaining family units.” The South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley — a euphemism, the protesters say, for a low-security prison — is one of two family detainment facilities in Texas, and the largest in the U.S. “There’s one issue with calling them residential facilities: They’re locked up. They can’t leave,” said Bethany Carson of Grassroots Leadership. The Corrections Corporation of America runs the Dilley center.