ICE lifts chickenpox quarantine, resumes deporting immigrants from New Mexico detention center

August 19, 2014 - 5:34 pm EDT

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Federal authorities said this week that they resumed deporting immigrants housed at a temporary New Mexico center after a quarantine stemming from a few cases of chickenpox was lifted.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement late Monday that the agency resumed removal flights back to Central America on Aug. 7. Since then, 71 immigrant adults and children from the center have been deported, officials said.

"ICE Health Service Corp. personnel have been clearing residents who have immunity to chicken pox, such as those who have already had the disease, or have been fully immunized through vaccination," the statement said. "Once medically cleared, residents who have a final order of removal and a valid travel document may be repatriated."

Speaking at an event in Bernalillo, Gov. Susana Martinez said the immigrants have been given "full due process" and have had time to make their case.

"They get to go to court and argue their position in Artesia," she said. "And the court is deciding whether or not they have any kind of reason to stay in the United States, such as any kind of asylum or whether they get deported."

The governor's remarks run in contrast to those of some volunteer attorneys who said federal officials weren't allowing immigrants to have access to proper legal representation.

Around 600 women and children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador had been held at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in the southeastern New Mexico community of Artesia while they awaited either deportation or asylum. Since deportations have restarted, it's unclear exactly how many remain.

It's also not known how long the facility will stay open since other similar temporary detention centers around the country have closed after immigration officials worked to manage the influx of migrant children fleeing gang violence and poverty in Central America.

The agency recently stopped accepting toy donations for immigrant children being detained at the Artesia center after officials said the shelter was being overwhelmed with gifts.

The presence of the center has sparked tensions in the New Mexico city, which typically doesn't experience immigration protests. For example, dueling sides of the debate held rallies Sunday at the facility, in what some residents called Artesia's largest protest in recent memory.

And immigrant advocates have been attending town halls and public appearances by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., in an effort to pressure the congressman to support immigration reform.

Martinez, a Republican and the nation's only Latina governor, blasted the federal government for failing to tackle immigration reform and said people are confused over immigration laws.

"It's unfortunate that the federal government hasn't had the courage basically to have done what President Obama promised to do, which was immigration reform," Martinez said. "And here we are almost six years later, and we're still dealing with this, and it's not fair to anyone."

The city of Artesia and Eddy County are scheduled to host a town-hall meeting Thursday about the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.