By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE, N.M. – The school year is about to start for kids across New Mexico.
And the same goes for the children staying in the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, N.M., which has been remodeled to house up to 700 immigrants, nearly all of whom came to the U.S. from Central America.
But who has been contracted to teach and how much it will cost is not so easy to discover.
Shortly after the FLETC facility was refurbished in late June to accommodate the immigrants, officials at with the U.S. Homeland Security Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement told elected officials in the Artesia area the children would receive educational instruction.
Few specifics were spelled out.
“As of last Tuesday, they said the education question was still on the table,” said J.R. Doporto, a city councilor from nearby Carlsbad who attends weekly meetings HSD and ICE officials hold with local lawmakers. “It is slated to be done with a contractor, but that’s all I know.”
The superintendent at Artesia Public Schools on Tuesday said his school district will not be involved.
“We have nothing to do with educating any of those students,” superintendent Crit Caton said in a brief telephone interview. “It’s all in-house, with ICE … As a matter of fact, they haven’t asked anything from us, services, whatever. They’re doing everything in-house, within their confines.”
Update 10:15 a.m.: Burch called New Mexico Watchdog Thursday morning and said he’s been told that federal officials at FLETC are considering three bids from contractors to supply the educational component for children at the facility. Burch said he’s been told it will take “a couple of weeks” until instruction begins.
Dennis Kintigh, the mayor of Roswell, 41 miles north of the facility, took a tour of the site along with other local officials Aug. 5. Kintigh said he picked up some details during the tour, but also said the federal officials should be more forthcoming.
“Silence results in rumors and all kinds of myths and legends circulate,” Kintigh said. “You do not combat falsehoods with silence. You prevent falsehoods with truth.”
“They have allayed any concerns that any reasonable person could have about security,” said Fouratt, who has toured the facility three times. “They are managing this population very effectively … I have to say I’m proud of the Homeland Security people and the job they’re doing. It really is a first-class operation.”
Shortly after the facility opened, some 40 adults and children were deported back to their home countries.
Two cases of chicken pox led to a quarantine that Kintigh said put a temporary halt to the flights, but Kintigh said the quarantine has been lifted and repatriation flights out of the Roswell airport have resumed.
There was concern about tuberculosis, Doporto told New Mexico Watchdog, but no positive cases turned up on X-ray examinations. “They said they were bringing in some X-ray machines on site,” said Doporto. “They were slated to be online this week.”
An estimated 53,000 unaccompanied minors, most from Central America, have entered the U.S. in recent months. The facility in Artesia houses women and children but no adult men.
The feds are obligated to provide educational instruction to the children.
“There is a federal law that any juvenile who is federal custody or who is in the kind of custody where federal money is spent, there is a requirement that these kids are educated, no matter whether they are there for a week or a year,” Fouratt said.
In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982 ruled that withholding state money for children who are in the country illegally violates the equal protection clause of the Fourth Amendment.
Contact Rob Nikolewski at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski